Name: Kevin Fox
Location of Study: Germany
Program of Study:
Sponsors: Robert Berner
Name: Kevin Fox
Name: Kevin Fox
Location of Study: Germany
Program of Study:
Sponsors: Robert Berner
Hey everyone! Glad I’ll be able to use this medium to let you all know what’s going on. I’m leaving for Hamburg tomorrow morning, and I am a whole mess of emotions – excited, nervous, anxious, basically everything you could imagine. I’m expecting from reading last year’s SLA blogs that the first few days may be kind of rough as I get over jet lag and culture shock, but by the end of the trip I won’t want to leave. I hope that’s the case! Anyway, I’ve got to get some sleep, but wish me luck!
Well, it’s been a week since I arrived in Hamburg, and it has been an eventful week, to say the least! I came in pretty early on Sunday morning, which could have been very tough because most stores in Germany are closed on Sundays. Thankfully it wasn’t, as my wonderful host father was at the airport to pick me up, and he and my host mother took good care of me throughout the day – showing me the train station, taking me out to dinner, and so on. All this took place in German, which was a great head first dive into my language immersion, but led to a few (mostly) comical misunderstandings.
I’m living about half an hour away from my language school, which is in the center of Hamburg, so I have to take the U-Bahn, or subway, to class every morning. If I’m going to come away from this trip with two German phrases (don’t worry, I’ve already learned much more than two German phrases!), they’ll be “Zurückbleiben, bitte!” (please stay back) and “Nächster Halt: ____” (next stop: _____), both of which are common intercom messages on the U-Bahn. Overall I have been very impressed with the quality of German infrastructure like the U-Bahn – everything is very clean and efficient.
This first week has been spent mostly getting to know the city and getting used to my classes. I am studying at the DID Deutsch-Institut, which so far has been very good. I’m learning a lot and making friends with classmates from all over the world, though just under half of my class is from French and Italian speaking parts of Switzerland. Most, though not all, are about my age, and most are very focused on learning German either to study at a German-speaking university or to use in their careers. Having such motivated classmates is highly enhancing my learning.
Two weeks into my adventure in Hamburg. I’m finally starting to get into the swing of things, and my German is starting to improve. Being immersed in the language really does accelerate learning. I’ve also been learning a lot of words that are used a lot in everyday life, but not so much in the German classroom. A good example would be “gucken,” which means “to look” or “to take a look.” I hear this from my host mother quite often in the form of “guck mal,” which is the imperative “take a look.”
I’ve been spending a lot of time this week exploring the city with friends from my language school. Everyone is really into learning German, so although many share a common native language, we do our best to communicate with each other in German. I also have a local friend who is a fellow ND student and resident of Dillon Hall, and we have hung out a few times, speaking exclusively German with each other.
In regard to journaling tasks, I was able to complete task 6, which involves interviewing a few locals about opinions of the United States. Across all ages and genders, the general attitude seems to be pretty ambivalent – most seem to enjoy certain American cultural exports, from Two and a Half Men to cheeseburgers, but many are not fond of the recent revelations that the NSA has been spying on American citizens. In Germany, “Datenschutz,” or data protection, is taken very seriously, and most Germans see this as a step in the direction of tyranny. This was interesting to see, since many in America seem to have this idea that Europeans dislike us. That doesn’t seem to apply in Germany – likewise, do you really have a very strong opinion, positive or negative, about Germany in general? Probably not.
Three weeks in, and I’m still enjoying Hamburg. I’m definitely becoming much more acclimated to life here – I’m used to eating rolls and cold cuts for breakfast, and I say “Entschuldigung” (excuse me) pretty automatically when I have to squeeze past someone on the U-Bahn. Yesterday I traveled with my Domer-German friend to visit his dad in a town about 20 minutes south of Hamburg called Buchholz in der Nordheide. He drove me there on the Autobahn, which was quite fun, though, contrary to popular belief, there is a speed limit of about 130 km/hr, or about 80mph, on most of the route (but not everywhere). We grilled steaks with his dad, and this incident confirmed in my mind that Germans have some sort of weird fascination with grilling. Both his dad and my host father have asked me many questions about how well their grilling compares to American grilling, and I see grilling books and advertisements in every bookstore and supermarket. I enjoy a good steak as much as the next guy, so I guess I can’t complain!
I completed a slightly modified version of task 4 (discussing the situation of minorities in the location of study) with my host mother earlier today. My host parents are grandparents to a five year-old, Sophia, who is half German and half Afghani. This fact prompted my host mother during casual conversation to give me a perspective of the situation of minorities in Germany. The largest minority group is definitely from Turkey, and Turks are a visible presence in Hamburg. From what I’ve gathered speaking to my host mother and others, integration rarely poses much of a problem for more secular Turks, aside from a few instances of Neo-Nazi aggression, especially in former East Germany. However, more religious Turks tend to stand out more (especially women) due to their clothing choices, and this can lead to some quiet racism and suspicion, especially from older people. Generally, though, Germans are a very open, tolerant people, and many Turks have had little trouble integrating into German society, and often becoming citizens rather than returning to Turkey, as older generations tended to do – they are responsible for the creation of “döner,” which is a delicious treat made from pita, lamb meat, and veggies that most Germans love.
Time is definitely flying here in Germany. I’m learning so much and having so much fun! This week I went to an attraction in Hamburg called the “Miniatur Wunderland,” which I’ll trust you all to be able to translate. It was a really cool place to visit – it’s filled with miniature models of all sorts of different parts of Europe and the US, from Switzerland to Austria to Hamburg to Las Vegas! It has cars that go on their own, a space shuttle, planes that take off, and even cargo ships that navigate water themselves. It was a very neat example of German precision engineering.
As students come and go at my language school, I’ve built up quite the international friend circle over the last few weeks. Homelands include Colombia, Brazil, Switzerland, Denmark, Poland, and Russia, to name but a few. Speaking German with such an international crew is quite the once in a lifetime experience!
While I’ve learned all sorts of colorful German words that would not be appropriate for this blog, for task 1 I decided to ask people about the relatively innocuous words “Kumpel” (buddy) and “chillen” (to chill, as in hang out). My host parents were familiar with both, but used Kumpel far more than chillen, much like you would not likely expect your parents to use the English equivalent quite as much as a 13 year old. My German-Domer friend and some of his friends both admitted to using both words, although they found “Kumpel” to be a little cheesy. Both are very informal, and only for friends and family – not exactly job interview appropriate.
I can hardly believe my time in Germany is almost over! Only one week left after this one. I’m pretty tired as I’m typing this, as I spent the last weekend in Berlin! It was an incredible city to see – the history there is very powerful. A row of bricks lines the street in parts of the city where the wall once divided east and west. While the differences between the former divisions of the city are less noticeable now than before, there is definitely a noticeable architectural divide between the two.
It was here in Berlin that I was able to complete my fourth journaling task, investigating a local food. Anyone who has been to Berlin could probably guess what I chose to investigate – currywurst! It’s a sausage, chopped up and covered in a spicy ketchup-like sauce mixed with curry powder, and it is VERY delicious! According to a kiosk owner, it was invented in Berlin, though some in Hamburg claim it was invented here. It is so popular simply because it is very delicious, and can be eaten very quickly and found almost anywhere. Budding restaurateurs, take notice – I think this has some serious potential to take off in the US. It is GOOD.
I got back from Germany yesterday, and suddenly I’m feeling homesick. I feel like I left part of me back in Hamburg. In regard to language acquisition, there was absolutely no better way to learn the language. Sure, the German professors at Notre Dame are all fantastic, but you learn immensely faster when actually living in the environment of the foreign language and being forced to use it. For me, speaking was the biggest thing to improve, and improve it did. I no longer have to think so much before I speak about most things; rather, the words just come out on their own. Naturally, there is still much room for improvement, but I am very happy with the results of my time abroad.
However, there was another major benefit of my trip that I cannot profess to have expected as much. It was an incredible intercultural experience, and not just with the Germans. I met people from all over the world at my language school, and spent much time with them outside of class. I had the unique opportunity to compare life in various nations through speaking German! It was incredible to realize the similarities that bind us all together and the differences that make us unique as world citizens. This grant funded an absolutely life changing experience for me – if you’re reading this because you’re considering applying for a grant, do it! You won’t regret it.