There are an innumerable amount of things I love about Germany! In fact, I’ll probably dedicate a blog post to some of them, soon. And if you spend even a moderate amount of time with me, I am sure you could recite a few of them =). But there is one part of my experience that took some major getting used to and was not one of my favorite parts of German culture. . .
Dun, dun, dun. . . . .University in Germany. I’m clearly being overdramatic and totally recognize that this was a hard part of my study abroad because I am just way too used to the way I get to learn here at Hamline. But this was, by far, the hardest thing to get used to.
First, let me tell you about my classes. I took seven classes that were each an hour and a half, once a week. Three were the German equivalent to ESL classes. In fact, they even abbreviate it like we do! They call them DaF Courses and DaF stands for “Deutsch als Fremdsprache” (German as a foreign language). Three classes were regular German classes—two of which were seminars (taught in a style kind of comparable to Hamline classes) and one was a lecture. I also had a class in English.
They were as follows:
(keep in mind that I’m translating the names into English but I want to still convey what they were, so the titles might sound a bit haphazard)
DaF: Germany in Film and Literature
DaF: Grammar and Syntax
DaF: German Culture/Applied Geography—Current and Historical
English class: Gender and Language
Lecture: German Phraseology
Seminar: Introduction to Spanish Philology
THE BEST SEMINAR EVER: US Foreign Policy under President Obama
(See! I didn’t hate everything!)
What I experienced with most of my classes was not a lot of work throughout the semester other than some reading and maybe a presentation. In some classes there was a presentation from a different student every class period. It was a great challenge giving presentations because of the language and the group work, which I really enjoyed! It struck me as odd, however, that in spite of the incredible amount of presentations the German students must have given throughout their studies they mainly consisted of reading off their paper and pointing once or twice at their PowerPoint. I attributed this to lack of expectation or feedback or something. . .and still do partially. But there is also clearly a cultural component. After I gave a lively presentation to one of my classes the Professor kind of smiled, told me that I did a good job, and then told me that my way of presenting was “very American”. We’ve talked about this in Professional German, too. Cool, calm, and collected is the way to offer a presentation in Germany! (Not usually how I tend to speak. . .)
Although there wasn’t much work required of me for most of the semester, finals took on a whole new meaning. Basically, your entire grade is based on one test that you take at the end. I found this to be REALLY hard. Especially because I am convinced that class discussions are a major part of my learning process and I wasn’t able to do a whole lot of discussing in my German classes—either because there wasn’t discussion or because I couldn’t catch what the other students were saying and formulate my response quick enough to take part. Long story short, I ended up doing pretty poorly on some of my tests. (Maybe I’m just bitter. . . ) Also, in hindsight, I maybe should have chosen easier classes. . .
Other differences relating to school that it was hard for me to get used to:
- No syllabi!
- The library had (what I interpreted as) strict rules. You had to lock up your bag and have the belongings you brought into the library checked. You had to be SILENT (except for in a few select group study areas where you could talk quietly). Oh, and it was closed on Sunday by 3pm. . . and Sunday nights are my prime homework time.
- When addressing you, the Profs say Ms. or Mr. and then your last name. During attendance I would hear, “Frau Polivoda”! Ha, ha! They also use the formal “you” when addressing students and students do the same when speaking to the Professor.
Basically, the German university classroom is more of an independent learning space. Maybe German students would feel like a detailed syllabus and various assignments due leading up to a final term paper as too much “hand-holding” and annoying! It was just became very clear to me how used to Hamline I was and how set I was in my ways. (My Sunday night study time is a perfect example of that kind of self-centered mindset.) I should also let you know that I do feel like I learned a lot. Even in one of the classes I did poorly in, there was information I retained that I think will stay with me for a long time.
Here’s a video blog I made when I was freaking out at the end of the semester!