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!)