Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Back to School!

*I just want to point out that the kid in the blue shirt in the middle of this picture is so excited to be going back to school that he isn't even touching the ground at all. Has anyone in the history of human society ever been this excited for anything?

Hi everyone.

I started classes last week! I must admit, it is wonderful to have a routine in my life again. Of course, when my alarm goes off, I usually grumble about it for a while before stumbling into the shower. But it feels nice to be actually tired (exhausted) at the end of the day. I have always had issues falling asleep, and now is no exception. But, it has been perhaps a little bit easier.

I have been to all of my classes so far, of which there are 9. Six of those nine classes are Vorlesung ("lecture") classes. These are an anomaly to me. At Humboldt, these lecture classes are worth 2 credits each. But all I have to do is show up and listen. There is no homework. No project. No test at the end. Only half of my lectures have attendance checks, so I don't even have to show up for the others. But I do anyway, because I need the practice.

So, since I signed up for six lectures at 2 credits each, 12 of my 28 semester credits would fall into the "very easy" category.

Yes, I said 28 credits. One class, called a Hauptseminar ("advanced seminar") is worth 10 credits because I have to write a long paper at the end, and give a presentation to the class. My advanced seminar is absolutely the scariest class I am taking this semester. It is about the National Socialism movements in 1920-1945, and how it spread outward from Germany across Europe.

And then yet another class is worth 4 credits. It's called an Übung, which means "exercise/activity," and concerns itself with the "Everyday life of students in Berlin in the 19th and early 20th century." Apparently we will just have discussions and stuff, which I am somewhat self-conscious about because of my accent. Just knowing words, and being able to say them, is not enough anymore. I must also have the confidence to inject my personality into what I am saying. And while I do possess said confidence, I have been feeling somewhat like Chinese exchange students must feel at universities in America... This feeling of alienation is almost totally unfamiliar to me, despite having been here for 10 months now. I must concentrate very hard on what is being said at all times, which eventually gives me what I call "language headaches."

When I get a language headache, all I want to do is sit and an episode of Heroes or read the New York Times so that I can relax a little bit. I am assuming that this level of intensity will pay off in short order. I already feel like I am comprehending more this week than I did last week. The road to fluency is a difficult one, apparently.

Two of my classes (1 lecture and 1 Proseminar ["undergrad seminar"]) are in English. The lecture is about British cultural history and the seminar deals with the various tribunals and courtroom proceedings against Nazi war criminals. These classes are interesting and fun, and require very little effort.

There are many strange, small differences between the atmosphere in European institutions of higher education and their American cousins. One interesting one is that students always applaud at the end of class, to show respect. But they do not clap their hands. Instead, they rap their knuckles on the desks to create a cacophony of knocking sounds. The first time I experienced it I actually chuckled to myself a little.

So, this is what I wanted! Grad school with the added difficulty of language acquisition/development. I knew not how vastly challenging this would be in practice. But I honestly believe that if I were taking such classes in America right now that I would feel significantly more bored with it. I just have to push through the remaining language barriers.

I miss riding my bicycle. It is getting very cold and graylight is mostly all that I get to see of the Sun during days which grow ever shorter as winter descends.

I am going back to Florida in 2 months to visit my family and some friends. I am looking forward to that, having not been back since I left right after Christmas last year. Unlike most people, I am not at all a fan of the holidays. I am not necessarily an Ebenezer Scrooge about it, but I don't find myself excited at all. I look forward to seeing those people that I care about, and those that care about me. The fact that it will occur over the holiday season is just a coincidence.

I have more to write about, but it will have to wait. My landlord needs me to translate for him again. Someone from the Romanian Embassy lives in my building (in an apartment that is easily twice as large and luxurious as my own) and his wife speaks English but not German.


William Farmer said...


Please promise me that at some point during your class on National Socialism you make use of the following two quotes:

"Nihilism? Fuck me...Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it's an ethos, Dude."

"You know, that Nazis had pieces of flair...that they made the Jews wear."

I don't ask you for much, please do me this favor. Believe me, you can do it. If I can work in "Modern bombs don't tick, they vibrate," into a security meeting at the movie theater, you can do this.

Mfraser said...

I'm going to officially cast my vote AGAINST supporting Nazism in Germany... pretty sure that's still against the law.