A long, long, long story
For those of you who have puzzled at the relatively emptiness you've may have been feeling in your inboxes these last (gasp!) nearly FOUR months, for those among you who have missed the irregular ramblings of one very lost and confused exchange student, for those of you who care to note such things: I am back. Or here. Again. Once more. Or something.
A long and germanistic update follows:
The last email I have record of sending, came out just before I left Mittweida at Christmas. I mentioned that I had successfully found a new school in Germany, studying with Antioch College's program at the University of Tübingen, and mentioned some Christmas plans. So, I'll pick this up there.
Christmas was very, very nice. First, girlfriend Liz, who is spending this year in jolly ol' England, and I arranged to fly home from Germany together. We first did a little sight-seeing: we did some Christmas shopping at a really nifty outdoors market in Chemnitz (biggest nearby city), and left a day early for Frankfurt (int'l airport). In Frankfurt, we visited another nifty outdoor Christmas market, and rode on a neat carousel and got some good pretzels and hot chestnuts and everything... It was really neat. I also got a phone call from my Mom, apparently my old company, EDS, was looking to hire a temp for over-the-holidays-coverage and my mom "volunteered" me for the break...
Our flight back was nice, except the movies were pretty dull. We had about an hour together in Chicago, before Liz's flight left for Columbus. We got some good American Pizza, and Pepsi. Mmmmm! Your new twenties look weird, though. Anywho, I then got home myself, and found my Dad and Matt Parmeter (an old high-school buddy) waiting for me at the airport. Mom and brother Matt were at a work-related Christmas party (they all work at the same office), Zach was spending the night at a friends, and Dad had come down with the flu.
The next three days I woke up at 3am or so wide-awake and had trouble staying awake past 8pm. (we international folks call this "jet-lag") I had to finish up some shopping and work, of course, but everything was going swell. Christmas was nice, but a little disappointing. I've decided my maturity out-grew myself... I still enjoy Christmases where I get neat toys I really wanted, but it seems I don't want them enough anymore to really enjoy it the way I used to... I hate growing up sometimes.
Anywho, I had lunch with some old friends, had a mini-reunion of sorts with guys I've known since 7th grade... an' all that great stuff. Didn't get to visit the high school building itself this trip, and only saw one of the teachers I usually pay visits to, but time was short... and yet fun. It was twelve days of Nintendo, burgers and Mexican food. Its hard to get burgers and mexican food in Europe. 's weird.
Anywho, then this big ol' snow storm hit Chicago, and our Saturday departure moved to Monday. So, we got another day for Nintendo and burgers and mexican and pizza (just cause we like it; there's lots of pizza places in europe), and then left on Monday. Thanks to that snowstorm, they bumped our flight to Frankfurt into Business Class, which was really nice. Fully reclining seats, leg rests, actual leg room... The food was fancier, but it seemed like the further they went out on that limb, the better their chances for failure. They did give *really* good nuts though; not just peanuts, but almonds and cashews and pecans and everything... Mmmmm...
We landed in Frankfurt at 6am, waited around the airport till getting on an 11am train back to Mittweida... It was a 6 1/2 hour train ride back from Frankfurt to Mittweida, which is not a lot of fun when you're barely awake and cranky. I just about crash-landed in my bed, and slept for sixteen hours straight, which might be a new Josh record.
I spent the rest of January milling about Mittweida pretending I was preparing to leave. I discovered a new and very good swiss-style cheese at the local super market, saw the German-language version of "Star Trek: Insurrection" and had another of the Dolomiti family's superb pizzas. My big adventure involved talking to people at the housing department, who I had to talk with about leaving in January instead of July. They said I came too late, so I'd have to pay rent for February, too, but they'd just take Feb's rent out of my deposit, so that's a lot easier.
I took too long getting ready to leave Mittweida, though, and had a rather rushed two days of frantic packing at the end of the month. See, in four months of living in Mittweida, I'd acquired a lot of loose odds & ends that I hadn't room in my luggage for. Blankets, toasters, things like that. So, I had bought some shipping boxes and was trying to ship them to my new address in Tübingen, but that was slower going than I estimated. (its always harder to move out than I'm capable of pre-judging, it seems)
Moving out of Mittweida that Saturday was perhaps the most miserable experience I've experienced so far. Sigh. It snowed the morning I was trying to move out, I was locked out of the room where I was told to leave my keys for my landlord, and I broke one of my toes by dropping my suitcase on it. Exhausted, smelly and broken, I rolled into Cologne (Köln) about 9pm, four hours late. I met the woman who would be my landlord for February, one Frau Neumann, and she showed me my room and made me a nice dinner.
February was spent in language school in Köln, boarding with Frau Neumann. The school was really, really nice, but my class was a little out-of-balance. Of the 120+ students there (mostly college-age, but some older folks, as well) I was the ONLY American. Not the only English-speaker, but no one would talk to me in English. It was a little bit lonely, not to mention isolating, but I did learn some nifty Japanese. See, in my 13-person class, six students were Japanese, one of whom was also boarding with Neumann. Because of this arrangement, I ended up hanging out with them a lot, and eventually learned how to say facial anatomy (eyes, nose, teeth...) and "Good morning", "Good evening", "Good-bye" and "Hello, my name is Joshua." I can still remember most of these. Oh yeah, because Frau Neumann's toilet broke, I also learned how to say "The toilet is broken."
February is also when Köln goes bonkers. That is, they throw this giant, city-wide party called "Karneval", which is a lot like Mardi Gras, but with more drinking. Köln's major note-worthy attraction is its cathedral (the Dom), which is a giant, towering Gothic monstrosity. Its really cool. For a whole week, they turn the plaza in front of the church into an amusement park, complete with Ferris wheel and carousel. They also break out all kinds of booths with candy, pretzels and a spiced wine called "Glühwein". (I think it means "Happy-wine".)
It was great. Köln has been my favorite of all the cities I've been to in Germany. It was large and cosmopolitan, but it still had a friendly atmostphere. I kinda miss it. :( I left Köln at the end of February. I had learned a lot (German and Japanese!) and it was time to move on. I spent a day visiting the city of Göttingen, then came on down to Tübingen.
Tübingen has yet to really impress me. It doesn't have that Mittweida "cuteness", neither does it have Köln's energy. Its nice, but somewhat bland. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
I arrived at the beginning of March. Bright and shiny Monday morning I met with the landlord and got moved into my new apartment. Its really, really, really nice. Its a lot like the "suite" living arrangements at CWRU, but much, much larger. I have an individual room to myself, which is large and furnished, and I share a long hall-way, a kitchen and a large bathroom with five other individuals. We had Laia, a girl from Spain, move out a few weeks ago, and are now down to a total of four and a half. The half person is Karsten, whom I secretly refer to as "the Phantom". He only counts as a half because he doesn't really live here, he just rents the room so he has someplace to sleep. He's not around much. He also keeps asking me if we've already met...
My other roommates are Dirk, majoring in German, Leslie, majoring in international business something-or-other, and Kosta, a Greek-born medical student. They are all quite nice, but a bit quiet, which can sometimes appear anti-social. We have a chart on the door that we use to divide up cleaning chores, and they rotate the chart every week. The main hall-way is decorated with large-size smoking posters, though no one here smokes. Leslie and Dirk are quite adventurous cooks, I am just starting to learn, and Kosta has recently discovered the microwave. Oh, yeah! A particularly nice feature of the room, is that my roommates collectively own a large, old TV that's sitting out in the kitchen. It doesn't get many channels, but it has allowed me to watch Star Trek, Babylon 5, "The Shawshank Redemption" and a lot of the news — all in German, of course! Its been really neat to watch the Kosovo thing from the German perspective...
So, for the entire month of March, I was in the "University of Tübingen Language & Orientation Program" or TLOP or the Program. The Program was okay, but too heavy on Language and too light on Orientation. Even then, the language training paled in comparison to what I got in Köln, mainly because the class sizes here were larger. Altogether, we were about 25 students, from different countries, but mostly the US. This was a big change from Köln, and I found that I had trouble getting along with the Americans from time to time. I believe it has mostly to do with my having been here already for six months. I feel I've already shed a lot of ethnocentrism, and many of them are still moaning about free-refills.
Anywho, I did meet some really nice folks. Like Amber, from Sydney, Austrailia, who's here studying Math but is actually trying to get far enough away from her parents to pursue her dream of being a concert pianist. She gets really mad if you assume she's from Melbourne, and hates Crocodile Dundee jokes. Or there's Marion, the hyper-active Scott, who's here studying Swedish and German. Or Andres, who was born in France to Uraguayian and Italian parents, and is now in Germany studying Physics.
... the whole group was quite a lot of fun, and yet the month of March creaked by. I suspect three months of intense language camp (one in Mittweida, one in Köln, and now one here) had been enough, if not too much. We had a cute little test at the end, and I have yet to stop by and pick up my grade. Not out of fear, mind, out of lack of curiosity. It can't be that different than what I got in February, right?
So, that's where my *real* adventure, began, I suppose, being dropped more or less on my own. Well, first off, part of the reason this message came so late, is because of more wrestling with the German telephone company. I technically already had a phone. The flat has a "group phone" out in the hall. I can't use it for modem calls, though. So, I went in late March and set up an appointment for a connection. I even had to skip an hour of class so I could wait here the *whole* afternoon, but nobody showed. That's right, I waited five hours and nobody came. The next day I went in to the office, to request a new appointment, and they told me that someone would call (the "group phone") and set up a new appointment by phone. Sure enough, they did call, but when I was in class.
So, I tried to call back, but due to Easter holidays (yes, plural) and other mysteries, I kept missing whoever it was they wanted to put me in touch with. Finally, I called and they just said, "How's next week?" I was rather a little skeptical whether or not anyone would show, but to my surprise, he not only came, he was early!
I had a little break between the end of TLOP and the beginning of real classes, which I was happy to spend showing my Mom and Grandmother around Germany. Mom had been wanting to come and visit me for awhile, and I was really glad she managed to come. She had a hard time believing me when I said the whole Continent seemed to be planning to close shop on Easter. And not just Easter. Friday before and Monday after. My roommates were stocking up on food, even. It turned out to not be _that_ bad, no stores were open, but a lot of touristie places stayed open...
I have now been in classes for three weeks. Although, some did not start the first week, and one only started Monday past. I hear CWRU finishes their semester 1 May. Its hard to believe that they will be finished before I'm half-way through. Weird, hunh?
Per the advise of several sources, I started my first week sitting in on seven courses, of which I planned to keep no more than three. This appears to be the normal thing here, because my classes have gotten much thinner as time goes on. I am currently intending to keep up with four of the seven courses.
Before I say anything about my classes, I should mention something about the German education system, that makes it quite different from the American one. German classes don't really "count". That is, nobody keeps track of which classes they've taken, and how many "points" they scored... none of that. German students take class not to collected credit hours, but to accumulate knowledge. At the end of two years, they take a "in-between test". If they pass this test, they take more classes, then take another test in four years. Then they are done. The goal of German students, then, is to learn enough to pass these tests.
Because of this goal, classes involve very, very little work. German students don't need homework, they just need knowledge. Luckily, however, a substitute mechanism exists, to grant the equivalent of "course credit". Its called a "Schein" (its a word like "ticket" or "card"). If you want to prove that you've taken a certain course, you ask the Professor for a "Schein". The Professor then assigns you either a "Hausarbeit" ("homework"), a "Referrat" (a speech) or a "Klausur" (a final exam). A "Hausarbeit" is a 20 page paper, like a thesis. A "Referrat" is a speech you make during the course; instead of the professor, you teach class for a day. A "Klausur" (probably the least common of these three) is a long essay-question exam.
Also, German courses come into the categories of either "Vorlesungen" ("lecture") or Seminar (same word). Lectures are dry and long and boring, and rarely do they allow you to get a Schein for these. Seminars are discussion-oriented, with a smaller group. I started out by selecting one Vorlesung and six Seminars.
The class I've been most impressed with, is the one I took as a whim, trying to get a total around seven, only vaguely aware even of what the class was about. Its called "Attitude and Change of Attitude" and it involves the study of attitude and how manipulation of attitude is accomplished, by persuasion and motivation and so forth. Its been really interesting material. Even more interesting, is that *all* of the reading material for the course (and there's a lot of it) is written in English. Even the stuff published by our Professor! Although, it has made it really difficult for me to participate in class discussions. Often, I know what I want to say, but lack the vocabulary to say it in German.
Also, a lot of our discussions have to do with translation, which is kind of funny. For example, the second day of class, we spent half an hour trying to agree that "Einstellung" was the best German translation of "attitude". I didn't participate, I just watched. For a solid week, I was trying to figure out who our Professor reminded me of. Finally, I figured it out. He looks like a slightly out-of-shape Harrison Ford. No kidding!
The class right after that, on Wednesday, is "Learning" taught by Professor Puca. Puca is short, energetic and, well, rather spunky. She takes her job as an educator rather seriously, and seems to put a rather large amount of effort into teaching. Which, I suppose, goes along rather well with the subject matter, anyway. She is, however, somewhat overly-concerned (I think) with trying to make us give "Referrat"s to get our "Schein". It makes it look like she is trying to reduce the amount of effort for herself, which is odd, I think. Probably 85% of the reading for this class is also in English.
My other two classes are somewhat less noteworthy. "Gedächtnis" is a class on memory, and the professor looks like he stole his hair-style from a Greek statue. Its that curly-but-swept-forward look. He speaks German, though, and is rather nice and mild-mannered, and has made an obvious (but appreciated, by the other students) effort to shape the class to be a good preparation for the Big Exam. He is also less intent on getting students to give "Referrat"s, which I appreciate. "Referrat"s still scare me a bit, although I think I'm safe, unless Puca keeps demanding... My newest class is on the development of Language. This is the one class I've been most looking forward to, but since I've only seen the first day of class, I can't say much about how it will go.
All of these classes meet once a week, with a two-hour block, of which we usually only use an hour and a half. Even that feels quite long to me. Most of the classes involve reading lots of English, about which the Germans students occasionally mumble complaint, but seem to manage quite well. The text for the "Attitudes" class was particularly colloquial (it was a Social-Psychology text, they tend to do that, I think) but nobody complained about it being difficult. I've been impressed.
My major adventure in all this, has been finding books for class. Lemme explain. The Tübingen Library uses what's called a "closed-stack system". That is, the books - or at least, most of the books - aren't out in the open where you can just wander through and pull them off the shelf. You have to order them. Well, I know that *now*, but it took about three weeks to figure the system out...
On seperate visits, spread over two and a half weeks, I've managed to get a library card, a Copier-Card, and order and check out several books. To those of you in normal, American libraries, this may sound quite simple, but I'm doing it in a foreign language, at a strange library, and with no one to help me. Yes, my roommates have answered several questions about the library, but they weren't too sure about most things. It seems they don't use the library very often.
Also, in the midst of this adventure, I discovered that the Psychology building has its *own* library. I went in once early on, but no one was there, and since the other library has so many complicated rules ("No Coats in the Library", "No back-packs in the Reading Room", etc...) I didn't feel like being caught doing something I didn't know was wrong. I left, and came back the next day. A rather large man with thick side-burns was filling the space behind the small desk, so I thought this was chance. Incidentally, the librarian looks and sounds like Andre the Giant's character in the movie "The Princess Bride".
Anywho, I walk up and say, "Hello. I am an exchange student, and I am new to everything here. I don't know what I'm doing. I have a list from my professor with books I have to read for class. Do you know where I can find these books?" Lesson #1 of the foreign student experience is titled "Asking Stuipd Sounding Questions Because You Don't Know Any Better".
Man-Mountain says, "Let me see the list." I pull out the list from Puca, for Learning. He looks it over and says, "Puca." Then he turns and points to a shelf on the wall, and says, "Here." I walk where he's pointing and find a binder labeled "Puca: SS 99 Lernen". That was it! I pulled it off the shelf, and inside are photo-copies of all the stuff I'm supposed to read! (well, almost all)
I turn back to the Giant and say, "I would like to make a photo-copy." He responds, "Straight ahead." I turn and start to walk in the direction he pointed. I've moved about four paces when he says, "You'll want change. Or a Copy-Card." I stop and turn around. I'd heard about these copy cards. See, to make copies, you can either pay with dimes (lots of dimes) or you can buy a Copy-Card. I ask, "Where can one buy a Copy-Card?" He says, "There," and points at a machine on the other wall.
I'm still not sure exactly why I continue to think this conversation was particularly hilarious. Something about the man's low, rumbling voice, and his simple, direct, almost command-like responses, maybe. Or, maybe it was his Isaac Asimov-style side-burns: the ones that are almost an inch deep. I dunno, but I still laugh to think about it. I've since been in the library on several occasions, and the guy is still there, and he's quite friendly with everybody. He seems really nice and personable, I think.
Anywho, since I only have classes Monday through Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays are pretty slow. Usually, I spend them reading, or conquering library adventures. I'm keeping up in all of my classes, mostly thanks to the high English literature ratio. I've talked to other international students, in other departments, and this appears to be special to the Psychology department. Although, someone I know in Art History said she couldn't take one or two classes because she didn't know Italian, and someone studying Philosophy said some of their literature was in the original Greek.
Well, this has been my long, and perhaps somewhat boring, return to being in-contact. I hope this message finds you well, and if you are soon to be visited by that destroyer of many a college student's sanity, the Final Exam, keep in mind that it could be much worse. It might have been a Final Exam written in a dead language. If you were in Germany, stranger things might happen.
A little forcast: April winds up soon, and it looks like my major hurdles remain classes and reading assignments, which are actually lightening a bit. May comes in soon, and my calendar is rather blank. I have almost a week off at the end of May, because of a Monday-Tuesday holiday, but I have no plans for what to do with that time, as of yet. June looks to be where the hard work will come in for me. Yipes! I can't start work on the Hausarbeits or Klausurs, because I don't yet know enough to write a paper about anything. I might try to start in May, but that seems awfully soon. I will be remaining in Tübingen until early or mid-July (return date is not set yet, should be ~12th). I am hoping to once again get on with the same ol' company in Kansas City, if they want to hire me on for the whole six weeks I'll be there this summer. CWRU starts up again the last week or so in August, and I expect to head back a little early...