School is still school in any other language… right?Berlin, Spring 2010
Berlin may be 9 hours ahead of Claremont, CA, but it is a whole 2-3 months behind when it comes to classes. My friends back home are stressing over finals, and I feel like I’m just getting settled. I am taking 4 classes, 3 at Humboldt University & 1 at the Free University. And just because I like them all so much, at the risk of boring you to death, I’m going to tell you about them:
- German as a Foreign Language: This is a mandatory class for all IES students based on the placement exam we took at the end of March. I am the only IES student in my class and there’s only one other American, though she’s also Asian and from southern Cali…so much for diversity there. That being said, I was surprised at how actually diverse our class is. Spain, Lithuania, England, Turkey, Poland, Latvia, and more are represented. It’s really cool. When else am I & my Lithuanian classmate going to do a joint presentation on a comparative analysis of education systems in Lithuania & the United States, in German? The class itself is challenging, more on a confidence rather than content basis. But it’s good for my German, and I guess that’s kind of the point.
- Microbiology: I was honestly so nervous for this class that I almost laughed out loud in relief when I realized words like “prokaryote” turned out to be “prokaryot”. Whew. I was also somehow expecting a completely different format of teaching, but the class is structured almost just like one of my bio classes last semester. When it comes down to it, bio is still bio in German…it’s rather comforting.
-Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory: This class is so fascinating not just for the content, but also the format and approach to the subject matter. It’s a lecture series with professors from a variety of research fields coming to give their take on the question – can we, should we, and how do we compare to the Holocaust? The class is less about the Holocaust itself but a variety of topics & events that are loosely tied together by its memory. For example, the last two classes have been about genocide in colonial Namibia and Holocaust Education Week in Canada as a civil religious movement. The German is very, very hard, but I think it’s absolutely worth it.
- Migration & Health: This is my one class at the Free University, and it’s seminar style and in English. It’s a refreshing break to super difficult academic German vocab, and I don’t have to think every sentence thrice over before I speak. The professor is young and energetic and thoughtful, and my mind might subconsciously think it was in a Pomona class if it weren’t for the strong German accents around me.
It’s kind of hard to compare university systems just studying abroad, and I’m on mini-vacation compared to most students here (I’m taking 12 SWS – hours per week per semester or something – compared to the standard 20 SWS). Even so, there are noticeable differences that affect me. I’m way more accountable for my own stuff, and I get the feeling it’d be easy to fall through the cracks here without generous IES support. Most class grades are completely dependent on either a huge final paper or written or oral exam. The profs are not your BFFs like they can be at Pomona, and far less accessible. It’s difficult if not impossible to just “drop by”, even during their office hour. Though the biggest difference remains the obvious one: the language, especially how fast it’s spoken.
But after having been warned of all the differences, I was kind of surprised to realize that there are a lot of similarities. Though I have to take far more initiative, I’ve found that the professors are more than willing to help and not nearly as distant as I expected. Pomona College has also prepped me really well for any academic world in any country. I find my classes are based off the same framework of critical thinking, and though the language may be different, the discourse is fundamentally the same. And when I look at it that way, German is then more a means to an end, a bridge between thoughts and ideas. And once I get over that bridge, school here is still just school.
Which also unfortunately means I have homework, which I guess I’ll go do now…
[[Also, it's worth pointing out that there are also IES classes offered but I have insufficient wisdom to give on that matter. But! if you are interested, ask and I'm sure someone will be more than happy to sharetheir knowledge]]
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