Name: Arthur Laciak
Location of Study: Bremen, Germany
Program of Study: Goethe Institute
Sponsors: J. Patrick Rogers & Earl Linehan
A brief personal bio:
In the fall of 2012, I will be a sophomore. I am majoring in Political Science and Mathematics with a minor in German. I am from Lemont, IL, a south suburb of Chicago. At Notre Dame, I am involved in Student Government, the German Club, and the Polish Club. In addition, I enjoy participating in all Notre Dame has to offer, such as charity events and dorm sports.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
A personal goal of mine is to become fluent in German and receiving this grant will benefit me with my goal. Over the summer in Germany, I will gain more confidence in my speaking skills and learn new techniques to help improve my language. This grant will also benefit my academic goals. The skills I learn will make it easier for me to complete a minor in German. Gaining fluency in German will benefit me greatly with my future career goals. My interest in Political Science is international relations, especially the relationship between the U.S. and Europe. Therefore, knowing German would benefit me in research and would allow to work in Europe, as well. I would have the ability to work in the European Parliament.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
The greatest thing I want to achieve from my summer study abroad experience is to gain speaking skills. I would like to speak German with less hesitations and to be able to hold longer and more complex conversations on a broader set of topics. In addition, I hope that my reading and writing skills will improve from my experience. I also want to experience Germany, itself. I have not visited Germany before and I am looking forward to the visiting Bremen and other cities and experiencing a new culture. It will be a wonderful opportunity to see the historical scenes of Germany, first hand, something that I always wanted to do.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write, and listen at a level of proficiency equal to one semester beyond my current German coursework placement at Notre Dame.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to engage in conversation with native speakers on German politics.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to describe elements of the German state, history, geography, culture, etc. in German.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
To “hit the ground running”, I will use every moment I have to speak German, especially with my host family. I know that during the first week, speaking with my host family will be hard, but I hope I can progress quickly and in the end speak complex conversations with them. I would want my host family to correct whenever I make a mistake in my speaking. I will also try speaking to others around the city, by forming polite conversations when in public. This I would do on a bus, when ordering food, etc. I will also refrain from as much English as possible when in Germany and only use it when absolutely necessary. This even means searching online in German and even making Facebook statuses in German!
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
This is my last night in the United States for the next five weeks. I will be flying to Bremen tomorrow and arriving there Monday afternoon. I have a mix of emotions now. I am excited to go to improve my German skills and to experience the German culture, but I am also nervous because for the next few weeks I will only be speaking German, no English! There is also some sadness for leaving my family and friends at home. I am ready for an adventure! I am sure I will have the time of my life and I will learn much, but now I need some sleep to prepare for my adventures! Good night USA!
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
This first week in Bremen has been awesome. I am no longer nervous living in Germany. The very first day had so many blunders. I landed at the Bremen Airport with no Euros. I tried using an ATM, but my card wouldn’t be accepted and the currency exchange was closed for the next two hours. I started freaking out. With no money, how was I supposed to get to my host family and the Institute. Luckily, the ATM finally accepted my card and I was able to buy a train ticket. I was so nervous though during the first day. I could barely form a German sentence. Only single words came out of my mouth, like Fahrkarte? However, contrary to expectations and stereotypes, the Germans here were very friendly to me and kind. I didn’t even have to ask and a man showed me how to buy a City-Train ticket and a woman on the street approached me and game directions to my host family’s home. To them, I probably looked like a helpless dog, but after they helped me, all I could say with a big smile is “Danke schön!” Now, just a week in, my speaking has improved, but I still do have many problems. I have a much easier time understanding Germans speak to me, though. My host family have told me that my speaking is much more fluent and I do not speak with such a great American accent, that I am pronouncing words actually like a German. I find this to be my greatest success becuase I really try hard to not sound like an American. However, ä,ö, and ü are still very difficult to pronounce. I was pleasently surprised when a few times, people came up to me and asked me questions, assuming I was from the city, but all I can say was “Ich weiß nicht. Ich bin nicht von hier.” (“I don’t know. I am not from here.”)
I have class everyday from 8:30 to 13:00. Much of the stuff that we go over in class I already learned, but there is so many things to learn in German, that this is a great review. After every item we learn, we do a small speaking activity, which is includes playing games or forming short dialogues. The class is composed of 14 students, with only three Americans including myself. Half the class is from Japan, so with them I have to speak in German. And the others are from Spain, England, Luxembourg, and the Philippines. It is unique to hear everybody’s background and reasons to study German.
The city of Bremen is great. It is not too big and popular, so I do not feel lost or surrounded by tourists. Practically, everyone I see is German and everytime I interact with a person in the city, I get to practice my German. Barely anyone will start speaking English to help me out. The weather is cool and rainy, almost everyday. I would have wished to have more sun, but I’ll survive. The old city center is beautiful…but too many banks! I have already explored the City Center, and my favorite place has been am Schnoor, which is the original medieval city streets. They are so narrow and every shop and cafe is tiny, but it looks like you travelled back in time.
I am still getting used to how things work in Europe. So much is different from the US. The money are in different sizes, but I do like the Euro coins becuase you could buy so much with 1 or 2€ coins.The City-Train and Bus system is so expansive. You can get anywhere in the city with those. They are so efficient and I just enjoy riding on the tram. Germans are much more eco-friendly. So many people bike ride. There is also a fee on all bottles you buy, but you get the money back when you return the bottles back to a machine. The food is different, but really good. My favorite this week was Schnitzel. I ordered it at the Hofbräuhaus It is any type of meet pounded to a very thin layer and breaded. It is so good! When you order one, it is as long as your forearm and after you finish eating it, you are so full!
That is all for this week. Bis Später!
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Two weeks down so far and two more weeks left. I am enjoying my time in Germany so much. I have found that my German has been getting better. My greatest improvement has been in listening. I am able to understand more and more every day. During the first week I had to ask for people to repeat things, but as of now I am able to understand more. Last week, I saw the movie “Lachfischen in Jemen” (“Salmon fishing in Yemen”) and I was outstanded that I was able to follow the whole plot from the beginning to the end without many problems. Also, I purchased Harry Potter 1 in German to improve my reading. I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series and I figured that I should read the books in German. I already know the story, so I am able to concentrate on the German, itself. I read the first chapter of the book pretty quickly and I understood about every word I read. When I read, I no longer have to translate the words back to English in my head. I find this a great success. This means that German is really sinking in. My speaking has improved. I am able to hold conversations, and I am trying to make my sentences more complicated. I still have trouble and I have to speak a little slow, but I’m improving.
The culture here is wonderful. I’ve seen much of Bremen already, such as the Cathedral in the main square. Yesterday, I made a visit to Hamburg. The city is so wonderful! Hamburg’s Town Hall is so intricite that words can’t describe it. I also visited the St. Nikolai Church. There are many churches in Germany, dating back centuries, but this is the most unique because it was bombed and destroyed by the Allie Forces during WWII. It was never rebuilt. The tower still stands and I was able to go up it and get a panaromic view of the city, but the rest of the church is gone. Only the exterior walls stay standing. It was such a remarkable sight!
And one cannot forget about German Fußball!! The Euro Cup is being played in Poland-Ukraine this year and Germany has a great chance of winning it. Game watches have been going on everyday and the German games are especially the largest. I watched all three German games so far at outdoor public viewings, twice in Bremen and once in Hamburg. And the German fans go crazy chearing on their team. Many times you can hear them chear “Schießen Tor!” (“Shoot a goal!”). The crowds are not as big as in Berlin, which had 40,000 people watching the game in front of Brandenbug Gate, but it works for me.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
One more week to go!
I have learned so much during my stay in Bremen. I continue to improve my language skills. Many phrases are coming more naturally to me. When I converse, I sometimes do not have to really think about what I am going to say, but I naturally say. Obviously, I still have to think when forming complex sentences, but it is becomming gradually easier. I am trying to add dependent clauses when I speak, which is hard for an english speaker to do because the verb goes to the end of the sentence. Therefore, I have to keep the verb in the back of my head and many times, my sentence will end with two verbs. On the other hand, I have been getting use to speaking in Present Perfect. Reading has improved probably the most for me. When I read non-complex readings, I have a pretty easy time understanding what I read. I even have caught myself self-consciously translating English labels on the stuff I brought with me into German.
The UEFA Euro Cup is getting more exciting. Germany is in the Semi-Finals! Last Friday, my friends and I headed to Berlin to watch the game there at the Brandenburg Gate. Half a million people gathered there! The celebrations were phenomenal after the 4-2 win.
I have seen more of Bremen, too. Yesterday, I visited the Bunker Valentin in Nord-Bremen. It was built in 1943 by imprisoned Jews. This bunker is over 100 meters long, 60 meters wide, and 30 meters tall and it is all above ground because the ground is too wet to dig into. It was an incredible site. This bunker is where submarines were built, about 120 per year for the last two years of the war. There is also smaller bunkers around the city and one a block away from me. They were built to protect the civilians from bombings.
In an earlier post, I wrote that about half of the class is Japanese. It is very unique to hear from them what Japan is like and their views on the USA. While all of this is done, of course, in German. Amazingly, we are able to teach each other much about our home countries and now hearing what they said about Japan, I really want to visit there.
Again, one more week left. And on Thursday I have to take a test for the Certificate of Completion. Wish me luck!
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
Just 20 minutes ago, I finished my German A.2.2 Exam. It was a little bit difficult, but I was able to handle it. The first part was a 20 minute listening section with three different exercises. The second was a reading and writing portion lasting 50 minutes and the final part was a speaking portion. I found the listening the most difficult out all three portions. For the speaking portion, I was paired up with my friend Alex. First, we had to give introductions to our two proctors, which was just a small description of ourselves. Then, Alex and I had to speak and ask eachother questions about a chosen theme. Ours was shopping – not a really good theme for two guys. And then we were given a scenario of choosing a gift for our friend Peter’s birthday. We ended up planning a trip to one of the Spanish Islands in the Mediterranean Sea, a popular place for Germans. We are such great “pretend” friends!
I am leaving tomorrow morning for a week stay in Poland to visit my family. I am so looking forward to it. And today I get to watch Germany in the Half-Finals against Italy!
I had a great time in Germany and I learned so much!
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
I finally returned to the States. I had a wonderful experience and I enjoyed every second of it. I would like to thank my sponsors, J. Patrick Rodgers and Earl Linehan, for providing the funds for my trip. Without them, I would have not been able to attend the Goethe Institut.
After a month in Germany, I am more confident in my language abilities. My host family told me that I have improved so much over the month. I have also been complemented by other Germans in the city, such as a shop-keeper. I was so ecstatic when I heard these complements. I now know that my experience in Germany has paid off.
This is the end of my journey. Thanks to all who have read along.
Postcard(s) from Abroad:
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
My German language skills vastly improved through by summer language abroad experience in Germany. Now, I feel much more confident speaking German and I speak with greater fluency than before, which was one of my goals. I learned that much time has to be put in when learning a language and a full immersion allowed me to do so. I participated in many cultural activities, so I was able to get a first-hand experience in speaking German. At first it was a struggle, but after spending some time in Germany, I was able to learn more language skills rather quickly. I met my goals because I really focused on learning as much German as possible.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
I learned very quickly that even Germany is vastly culturally different than the United States. How society functions was at first unusual for me, but I quickly adapted to it. By the end of my trip, though, the locals thought I was German and would come up to me and speak to me, even though I was still learning. My advice is that before going abroad, students should research the cultural standards of their country and to be prepared for whatever their travels give them.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
I plan to continue learning German at Notre Dame because one of my life goals is to become fluent in it. Hopefully, I can return to Germany in another summer for an internship, so I can improve my skills again. In addition, I would like to use my German skills for my career post-graduation. My SLA Grant experience taught me how to learn and interact with Germans, so I would be able to use those skills later on.