Monthly Archives: November 2014

Buurrrrrrlin and More

This past weekend in Berlin was quite educational….almost too much so.  Feeling the urge to dance one night, I asked the man at the hotel for recommendations to good clubs within walking distance.  He directed me to Club 77 and off Kathryn, Jennifer and I went.  Unbeknownst to us, Club 77 is a strip club  as the other student teachers discovered when they Googled it.  Thanks to our navigational ability we never made it there, but I’m still confused about the miscommunication.  I said I wanted to save money not make money!  For goodness sake, I was wearing glasses because I’d forgotten my contacts at home.  Not your typical strip club attire I would think.

Berlin was cold and windy and an extremely interesting city to see.  In some ways it is very young.  Most of the buildings are modern due to the destruction during World War II.  The turbulent history of the city is also very recent as well.  My host family told me that they were there when the Berlin Wall was torn down and they even left a message on it for a friend one time.  Seeing the faces of people who were killed trying to get over the wall brought history alive in a way that textbooks never can and also brought tears to my eyes.  Most of them were young-around my age-and had so much life to live.

Next to the Berlin wall.
Next to the Berlin wall.

Some highlights of Germany so far include the following:

-Monday was my first day to teach an “official” lesson that I had planned and prepared on the train coming back from Berlin with only a few hours of sleep.  In my haste to get to the bus station along with my first time teacher nerves, I tried to jump from the road to the sidewalk to park my bike and ended up face-planting in front of the bus.  I got to teach my first lesson with skinned knees and scuffed up boots.  Am I really old enough for this?  Every time I careen down the road on my bike (the first time I road it on the sidewalk, a big no-no, and on the wrong side at that), I feel like I should wear a big sign that says “CAUTION: AMERICAN ON BICYCLE.”

-Kathryn and I took a trip into Dortmund last week.  Somehow neither one of us had calculated how much money we should bring and thus were left with a very difficult decision at the mall:  should we spend the two euros and 28 cents we had between the two of us to use the bathroom at 50 cents a person and split a euro ice cream cone OR forego the bathroom and each have our own cone?  Mother Nature called and we split the ice cream just solidifying our unintentional “couple” status.  It was also the first day for the Christmas market to be open and let me tell you it is no lie that the Germans love Christmas.  In our eternal quest for directions to the market and Germany’s tallest Christmas tree, we accidentally gained an Indian admirer.  “Come,” he said.  We went and he never left.  I told him that we were very religious and needed to go to the church and pray, yet still he followed.

Our shared cone
Our shared cone


-I pretty much live next to a grand castle complete with a moat and swans and ducks.   I have been running on the trails behind it every chance that I get.  Sometimes I have to wonder if it real life.

Schloss Nordkirchen
Schloss Nordkirchen

-Finally, I think I might be turning into a loaf of bread.  I mean I like bread, but we literally eat it at every meal.


6 Differences Between the German and American Educational Systems

1.  Teachers do not have a set classroom like the do in the US.  German teachers instead travel around from class to class.  Their home base is a teacher’s lounge.

2.  Teachers dress much more informally in Germany.  The standard outfit of a teacher is the American version of a causla Friday dress of jeans and a t-shirt.

3. The class schedule is crazy!  Instead of the same class at the same time everyday of the week, the same classes are taught at different times and on different days.

4.  Breaks between classes are much longer in Germany than in the US.  While in the US a high school teacher may typically have one planning period with five minute hall breaks in between, in Germany the teachers have no planning period but there is around twenty minutes between each classes.  Keep in mind that the classes sometimes last an hour and a half though.

5.  Teachers can teach only a few classes or they can teach multiple classes.  Sometimes their last class might end at 1 and they are free to leave or sometimes it might end at four.  This is different from the US where each teacher has the set amount of classes.

6.  There is far less access to technology in Germany than in the US.  Most teachers only have chalkboards to write on and there are only a few computers in the whole school.

On the surface, Germany and the United States’ have very different educational systems.  However, I have been more amazed at the similarities.  I went to Germany expecting teaching strategies along with the teachers and students themselves to be completely different.  What I have discovered is that good teaching equals good teaching anywhere in the world.  Good teachers care about their students and about their material.  Good teachers are constantly seeking to find strategies to engage and connect with their students.  Good teachers collaborate with other teachers and steal ideas from many resources.  The conversations that I have had with the German teachers have been identical to conversations with American teachers.  The teachers have discussed ways to hold all students accountable for learning, they have sighed over multiple classes to prepare for with little time, and they have talked about different effective teaching strategies.  A constant flow of money along with a flood of paperwork for teacher accountability can be pumped into the educational system, yet what makes for good education is simply good teaching and good teaching comes from good teachers who care for their students and their work.

Eins, Zwei, Drei,….

Yesterday was my first big day out since arriving in Germany to the bustling town of Munster (pronounced moon-stir).  Only then did I realize how completely helpless it feels to not even be able to say, “I don’t speak German.”  I found myself wanting to say gracias and hola from the sensation that I should be speaking a foreign language.

My host family drove Kathryn and I into the town of Munster, and we established a time and place to meet up later.  Right at 3 o’clock, Kathryn and I stood at the designated meeting spot proud of our promptness and successful navigational ability (we had experienced less success in trying to order food and coffee for lunch).  We saw my family’s silver car start to drive around and began to run after it as it slowly turned the corner.  We jogged slightly behind, finally made it to the door, stretched out our arms to grab the handle, and sure enough it was NOT Holger and Christine in the car.  Awkward.

Having the strange, but not unpleasant experience of being a dependent kid again, my family dropped me off at Kathryn’s family for our “play date” that afternoon and later Kathryn’s host mom drove me back home.  As a twenty-three year old woman, it is an adjustment to go back to a time where I am completely dependent on other adults for transportation and plans.  Until we get our German phones, I can’t even communicate with Kathryn.  (While writing this, my host dad came to my room to let me know that Kat’s “parents” had called to say that they wanted to visit our town’s castle and if I would be interested in joining them.  It is making me smile at the sweet way that we really have become our host familys’ “children.”)

Kat and I decided it would be fun to ride bikes to the castle while the weather was nice.  Kat’s host mom got out of the bikes for us.  I stared at the tall bike, put my foot on the pedal, and attempted to hoist myself on the seat.  I wobbled back and forth and only managed to stop myself and not fall over by running into the parked car.  “Has she ever ridden a bike before?” Kathryn’s perplexed mom asked while watching this crazy American.  If there is anything I have learned from my experiences traveling, being able to laugh, especially at yourself, is one of the most important life skills.  Fortunately Kathryn’s host mom has a  great sense of humor and didn’t seem to mind too much that I’d run into her car.

Some common cultural difference I’ve been noticing include the following (or at least between Kathryn and mine’s families):

-Sheets for the bed don’t exist.  You get one comforter and that’s it.

-The homes are very open, yet there are a myriad of doors everywhere.  Do I leave them open or do I close them?

-I have yet to see carpet in a home.  This makes vacuuming easy.

-Germans drink non-alcoholic beer or at least assume Americans do.  Both mine and Kathryn’s families offered us options of non-alcoholic or alcoholic beer much to our surprise.

-Like Spain, German towns are very distinct and centered around a cathedral.  There is none of this sprawling suburban neighborhoods that are so common in the U.S.

-Everybody rides bikes.  I learned last night that it is illegal to not turn the bike light on at night.  Kathryn couldn’t find hers to turn on, but we didn’t get pulled over.  I can only imagine that conversation to the police (or lack thereof).  Oops!

Also, while talking to my host family, I have been surprised to learn of the shame that some Germans still carry regarding World War II and Hitler.  My family told me that they are not proud to call themselves German despite a thriving a economy in what is otherwise a depressed Europe and living in a land rich in history and culture.  I also learned that my host dad has a Ph.D. in medieval German languages and completed a 700 page thesis.  The complex range of interests with people always fascinates me.

My battery is at a wee ten percent and I don’t have a converter yet, so I’ll bid you adieu as I finish typing this to the pitter patter of rain on my attic window.

Sleepless in Germany

German Time: 1:42 am

Bowling Green Time: 6:42 pm

My time:  ???

After spending the past three and a half hours tossing and turning, I’m beginning to regret that three hour nap this afternoon.  But, hey, at least I can write about it from my attic.  Climb up  the spiral stairs with me  to the sloped ceiling of my room, make sure to walk only down the center so as not to bump your head, and join me in my restless night.

I arrived yesterday to Germany feeling far more nauseous than excited.  Let me rephrase that:  I arrived feeling one hundred percent nauseous and zero percent excited.  I spent the last hour of the plane ride from Toronto to Frankfurt throwing up, prayed that I could make it through customs without showing how sick and miserable I felt, hopped on a short flight to the town of Munster and went straight to school.  Keeping up with my theme of fabulous first impressions that began with meeting my Barcelona host family with my pants almost on the ground due to the button popping off the day before, I met my German host family with purple puke (sorry, I just couldn’t resist the alliteration) speckled pants and boots. Yay!

Oh what a dear host family I have.  Holger is a  quiet, kind man.  He has run over sixty marathon and just ran a one-hundred mile race.  It only took eighteen hours.  He teaches sports at the school where I am working and rides his bike every day.  He told me that he never takes the shortest route.  Christine is lively and fun and another teacher.  She works at a local primary school and her goal is to become the headmistress in the next two years.  She has only run thirty marathons (her goal is fifty) and qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon.  Anna, their fourteen year old daughter, missed the running gene of her parents and writes her own guitar songs and does origami.  She has already left me two little origami gifts on my bed.

Yesterday, Heike, our German contact, excitedly told me that my first class today would be sports because “I am sporty.”  Uhhh, outdoorsy sure, sporty, no.  Sometimes communication gets lost in translation.   I was saved by the bell, otherwise known as Ms. Eckert, a wonderful German English teacher, who asked me to come to her classes this morning instead of sports.  I’m already amazed at the rigor of the German school system.  The students I observed were discussing themes and current connections  in a language that isn’t even their native tongue far better than many native English speakers.

Tomorrow, or today, however you want to view it, I’m heading off to Munster to explore.  Once I woke up from afternoon nap, my sweet host family told me that they had called my friend Kathryn’s family and invited her to come to Munster with us.  Man, it feels nice to be like a kid again with planning responsibilities in the hands of adults!

So much more could be said, but I’m going to try to count some sheep and get some sleep before getting up in a couple of hours.  Good night from Anna’s attic!