This past week has been full of adventure, from Thanksgiving in my hometown (Herben) to traveling to Brussels to see a good friend (while staying with complete strangers) to singing Christmas carols with my host mom’s choir group. I suppose I will start with teaching!
Teaching science to students whose first language is not English presents itself with a whole new set of challenges. To begin with, I am usually not completely sure of their prior exposure to the topic. Just as in the States, while everyone has theoretically received the same information in their previous years of education, this is often not the case. So when I went into the lesson thinking the students had a basic understanding of the parts of the heart in German, I should not have been surprised to learn that half of the students never learned the parts of the heart the previous year due to changing teaching schedules and the failures that occur even in the best of schools when sudden illnesses occur. This became an excellent opportunity for co-teaching with the German biology teacher as we went through the various parts of the heart in both German and English. Some words are surprisingly similar (thank you TCA for forcing me to take Latin), and some are so completely different that I wondered if we really were referring to the same thing. Despite the challenge, we laughed together, learned together, and I can feel myself growing and understanding the perspective of students who do not have the prior understanding or vocabulary to properly explore new topics.
Which brings me to yesterday’s lesson, which involved introducing Meiosis (the division of sex cells) to a group of students who had never learned the words in German either. (Which subsequently led to the conversation that no, I was not teaching a lesson on sexual education just because I said the word “sex.”) Again, I was thankful for my hours of co-teaching with my cooperating teacher in Bowling Green, as myself and the German teacher explained our way through chromosomes and chromatids while the students asked questions in German and English in the most bilingual biology class I have ever participated in.
Below: The textbook I was given to prepare… Hello Meiosis 🙂
My host parents had the opportunity to meet my entire family (minus Nate and plus several relatives) via a Google hangout session on Thanksgiving day. As the final preparations were made, Peter’s phone was passed from Aunt, to brother, to sister, to parent, to uncle and back again. (This made it a little confusing to explain to my host parents- “That’s my brother! That’s my sister! Oh, hey, there’s my mom!” Mom attempts to say hello in German…). For as chaotic as those thirty minutes were, it reminded me what I love about our home- the noise, the laughter, the madness that is every family get-together we have. After we hung up, Birgit (my host mom), mentioned that I must miss Thanksgiving and being with my family. While it was difficult to have my first Thanksgiving away from home, I would not have traded the experience of being welcomed into this new host family, with all of the traditions and experiences that they have so graciously let me be a part of. Family is so life-giving, and more than being homesick, I was reminded of what this day is about- being thankful for the overwhelming number of blessings that I have been given. (I won’t lie though, I have been craving pumpkin pie ever since I saw the half smashed pie that Alyssa dropped on the floor and quickly saved).
Anna and I took a trip to Brussels to be reunited with our lovely friend Sarah who is teaching English in France for a year. (Hoorah for reuniting abroad with old friends in another country- you know you are growing up when…)
Anna’s host mom ordered the train tickets, so we set off for Dortmund, the nearest major city with transportation to other larger cities. Despite our previous difficulties with public transportation, we anticipated that our travels would be smooth sailing (I mean how hard is it to get on a train?).
After missing our first train due to a confusion about the departure time (coughcoughAnnacan’treadJ ), we soon learned that our route was not by train, but by train, then BUS, then train and maybe metro. Talk about the most confusing transportation system I have ever encountered. This day involved multiple instances of sprinting from one mode of transportation to the next while laughing and nearly crying as our backpacks flopped in the wind. (Important information for those of you considering buying a backpack in the near future: GET ONE WITH A STRAP ACROSS YOUR WAIST.) We learned to be more specific with our questions- the number of times we were told “it’s right over there” (points in the direction of about 15 giant buses, the metro station, the train station, and every other possible mode of transportation) got to be a little bit ridiculous. Regardless, we made it safely, with only a minor detour through the north side of Brussels, which we unintentionally discovered is also home to the red light district. After finally being reunited with our friend Sarah, we found our way to our new “home” for the next two nights- the couch of an incredibly friendly couple who we met via the couch surfing website. (See Anna’s blog for more information and photos https://annatations14.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/hey-i-just-met-you-and-this-is-crazy-but-heres-my-profile-and-can-i-stay-with-you-maybe/)
Below: Waffles. Belgium lives up to the stereotype, and then some…
Below: Anna, Sarah and I enjoying mulled wine and chocolate in Brussels, the land of fattening bliss..
Still can’t speak German (it’s been almost four weeks?!) I can, and did, however, participate in singing Christmas carols with my host mom’s choir group. They were in English, but with a German accent of course. Jingle Bells became “Jingle Bell” (my host mom explained that sometimes the songs are so fast they can’t pronounce all of the sounds), and I participated in the strangest version of Silent Night I have ever heard. Go Tell it on the Mountain was my favorite, however, as you can see by the title of this blog post. I sang with the sopranos (I am most definitely an alto) and we had a rather complicated part consisting of singing “ba” on the off-beat while the basses (?) sang “bum” on the non-off-beat (never claimed to be a music major). The result was supposed to be a background of bum-ba-bum-ba-bum-ba while the soloists sang the verses… Our actual result was something more of a chorus of ill-timed bum’s and ba’s that sounded like a bizarre version of Drummer Boy mixed with a herd of lost sheep. The ensuing musical pandemonium caused myself and the soprano next to me to start uncontrollably giggling, which did not please the intense German choir director… who didn’t know I didn’t speak German. Which only caused me to laugh more when he stared at us intently with that oh-so German stare and said something that could only mean “shut up and stop laughing”, thereby creating the ultimate oh-no-I’ve-got-the-giggles-and-I’m-in-church situation. (Alyssa, Abs, and Char you know EXACTLY what I am talking about- #christmaseveservice, #candlesthatwon’tlight, #churchgiggles).
I am so glad I had the opportunity to join them for singing, and it reminded me of how much communication takes place without words ever being spoken. Every day with my host parents, my host siblings, the teachers and the strangers that I meet, we say so much to each other without even saying anything at all. (Like the woman who just asked me to leave the library because she had to lock up, by showing me her keys and pointing to the door and giving me the I’m-sorry-it’s-time-to-go expression coupled with several German sentences that could only mean I needed to leave.) Some days I wonder if my life hasn’t become a giant game of charades. (Lukas always wants to play board games, and he will sometimes come into my room and ask me in German if I want to play, to which I will respond in English, to which he will respond in German, until finally we think we both have it figured out between the pointing and the laughing and hand motions).
It is crazy to think that my time here is almost over! My, how four weeks flies. I will be sure to get a photo with my host family before all is said and done. Sorry this was such a long post- I still feel like I could write for days between all that has happened. Soon it is back to real life and jobs and English and pumpkin pie and… Oh, yeah, I graduate next week.
Until then—Viel spaß (“Fia-Schpas”- Have fun!)
Greetings from Herbern! (Pronounced “hair-ben” in case you missed my last post.) Things have been so busy I have hardly had time to write! I will give a brief update on happenings this past week…
Above: A statue symbolizing peace and reconciliation, near the Berlin Wall.
I realized I haven’t written much about the schools, despite the fact that I am here to complete my student teaching. The funny thing is, all the language and cultural differences aside, German classrooms are not all that different from American classrooms. There are well-behaved students and wild students, excellent teachers and mediocre ones, engaging discussions and lessons where getting answers feels like pulling teeth. Students wear clothing (often with English words) similar to our students,’ and behave much as I have experienced in classrooms back home. Every day reminds me what an important role teachers play and how I cannot wait to have my own classroom to develop a curiosity and passion within my students.
I have only had the opportunity to teach one lesson so far (mostly I have been observing to prepare to teach). My schedule was a little messed up due to several absent teachers, but on Monday I will be teaching a lesson to a bilingual biology class! We are going to be talking about the heart. They are learning the vocabulary for the first time in both German and English, so it should be interesting! I am thrilled to discuss such a fantastic and mind-shattering organ with them. If you are bored of reading this or have extra time to be reminded of the amazing feat that is our existence, I suggest you watch this short video that shows how blood pumps through your body (he mispronounces vena cava, but I think we can cut him some slack): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEWjOCVEN7M
This past week has included lots of traveling and exploration. We are teaching in Werne (Ver-nah), and there is a beautiful park and city center nearby. One major difference between this area and BG is how bike-friendly it is here! In Munster, there are more bikes than people (according to a local source).
Below: Jennifer, Anna and I on one of Werne’s many spacious paths.
I also took a day excursion with Anna to Dortmund. We proudly (and confusedly) navigated our way through the train station and to the cathedral and humongous mall, where we got sucked in by a store called Primark, which is basically like Forever 21 on steroids and even cheaper (hard to imagine, I know). After an hour and a half of the soul-sucking shopping which ended in purchases that made our grand total of remaining cash (between BOTH of us) 2 Euros, we decided it was time to explore elsewhere. (In our defense, I only spent 5 Euros and Anna a few more than that- we just didn’t budget well when we packed money for the trip). This led to our comical ice cream adventure, where we were forced to choose between peeing and getting an ice cream cone. Can’t say I ever thought I would have to make that choice! (Our decision to wait to find a restroom was soon overturned by the overwhelming realization that sometimes nature trumps your desire for ice cream- rare as it may be). This was followed by a stroll through the Dortmund Christmas market, which can only be described as a magical Christmas land filled with the smell of mulled wine and other delicious treats. (See Anna’s blog for the story of the Indian man who became our unofficial tour guide and would not leave us alone even after we tried to sprint away and claimed we need to head to the cathedral for religious purposes).
Below: One of the magical structures in Dortmund’s Christmas market.
Lastly, this past weekend we went to Berlin. This was an incredible (and cold) adventure into Germany’s history and the division that existed just 25 years ago. It is one thing to read about this in a textbook or see photos online; it is quite another to stand before the last remaining fragments of a wall that devastated peoples’ lives and literally prevented them from achieving their dreams and desires. I realized how immersed I am in this American mindset- “anything is possible”- and yet, if there was a wall outside my home with guards ready to shoot anyone who tried to pass, how that dream would have to die. How as much as we breathe our free red-white-and blue air, no human is invincible. This is particularly interesting in light of the Ferguson protests, but that conversation will have to wait for another time.
Below: Standing next to the remaining portion of the Berlin Wall, preserved so that Germans never forget the past in this city (and country).
Alas, I still don’t speak German. I can say I have, you have, he/she/it has…But every day I am reminded that I do not speak the language of the country I am living in. I have had some great discussions with my fellow teachers about what it must feel like for our ESL students who are new to America. It can be overwhelming and discouraging to sit in a room filled with people and to not understand a word that they are saying. But I have learned how much can be communicated without words, and how we all say similar things in a different way. For all our differences, sometimes we are not all that different after all…
Below: A hole that looks from the East to the West; a glimpse of life on “the other side”
Now that I have written nearly a book….If you have made it this far, have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Also, you are probably a family member or friend, so know that I love and miss you and am sending hugs from abroad! Enjoy your turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie (yum), and think of me while I enjoy bread and more bread….
Tschüss! (Scrunch your nose and say “choose”…Finally I can say goodbye!)