Name: Scott Copeland
Location of Study: Cologne, Germany
Program of Study: Carl Duisberg Institute
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies
A brief personal bio:
I am a Junior Sociology major from Fort Mill, South Carolina. I love reading and sports, and I am extremely interested in the social implications of public policy. In the future, I plan on pursuing a PhD in Sociology (quite possibly in Germany!).
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
My SLA grant will open up possible research and academic opportunities throughout Europe. I hope to conduct extensive amounts of research over the course of my career, and Europe is one of my main areas of interest. Immediately following my language training in Germany, I will conduct a research project that examines the relationship between commuting across international borders and European identity. I hope that this project will be the first of many in a career focused on European social and political issues.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
I intend to improve my German speaking to conversational level. This familiarity will allow me to converse with my research participants in the German-speaking Community of Belgium. Moreover, I will gain first hand experience of German culture. This combined linguistic proficiency and cultural competency will allow me to better understand German social issues, and I hope that it will make graduate study in Germany a feasible endeavor.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the Summer, I will be able to communicate in German with native speakers on a wide variety of subjects ranging from social issues to political theory to the arts.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to relate a significant familiarity with German culture and engage in discussions that utilize this cultural knowledge.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to accurately and completely comprehend German news in the native language, which will allow me to experience current events through the same symbolic communication system as native Germans.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write, and listen at a level of proficiency equal to two semesters beyond my current German coursework placement at Notre Dame.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to display a willingness and comfort in unfamiliar cultural and linguistic situations, as evidenced by my cultural exploration in Germany.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I intend to “hit the ground running” through immediate participation and exploration of Cologne’s culture. Home to one of the world’s most striking cathedrals, Cologne is a beautiful city on the banks of the Rhine River. I plan on researching cultural landmarks, compiling a short list of attractions, and embarking on those excursions upon my arrival in the city. Moreover, I will locate areas that could provide a more rich cultural experience, i.e. the market and the “Altstadt”, and venture into their midsts as soon as possible. Lastly, I will work with the language institute in order to take advantage of all of their cultural offerings.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
My first week here in Cologne has been absolutely amazing. As this is my first time traveling outside of the United States, I was definitely a little overwhelmed. I find public transportation in cities like Chicago to be a little stressful, so working through the system in another language was tough!
As soon as I got to Cologne I went straight to the Cologne Cathedral. This Gothic Cathedral is, per Wikipedia, the most visited tourist site in Germany with more than 20,000 visitors a day. It is an intense and imposing building that dominates the Cologne skyline. While I did not climb the stairs to the top of one of the 515 ft. towers, I definitely plan on taking a return trip to do just that.
My language class is fast-paced and intense. We have about 4-5 hours of instruction every day, followed by an additional 3 hours that we can spend in a self-paced “Learn Studio.” I already feel as though I am making improvements, and I hope that by the end of my course I will at least be able to hold a relatively smooth conversation with other German speakers.
The other students in my class come from all over the world. In fact, I have not yet met another American in the entire language school. I find this particularly enjoyable because, as I mentioned earlier, I have never traveled outside of the US. It is incredibly interesting to talk to the other students about their homeland, their culture, and what they think of life in Germany. Despite the barrier imposed by our fleeting knowledge of German, we can still communicate with one another and have interesting, lively conversations.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start in Germany!
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
My second week here in Cologne was just as great as the first. I am beginning to settle into my daily routine, and that has allowed me to feel much more at home. I am also really getting to know some of my classmates. As I mentioned in my earlier post, they hail from all corners of the world – from Iraq to Colombia – and we are all advanced enough in German to communicate with one another. As I spend more time with my new friends I am only further intrigued by the unique stories that they have to offer.
I am finding it easier and easier to converse with Germans outside of the classroom. As I become more comfortable with German syntax, I can better understand native speakers and texts, such as newspapers. That being said, my vocabulary is still relatively limited. I know that I must spend a good amount of time expanding my lexicon in order to really get a grasp on the language.
This weekend I took a trip to the Cologne Chocolate Museum and bought an embarrassing amount of chocolate in the gift shop afterwards (there is something about staring at chocolate for a couple of hours that really primes your taste buds for the actual product). I also visited the Germany National Sports Museum which was filled with stories, displays, artifacts, and pictures dating back to the Roman era. Now that I have seen two major museums, I look forward to exploring some of the more ancient churches and Roman remnants that still stand throughout the city.
My weekend was made even more enjoyable because I was able to meet up with my former Notre Dame German Professor Alex Holznienkemper. Professor Holznienkemper is in his home country of Germany for the first time in four years, and on his way through Cologne he made sure to make time to grab a quick cup of coffee with me. It is times like those when one truly realizes the meaning, significance, and selflessness of the Notre Dame family.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Another week down and I still have only great things to say. My German is immensely better than it was when I first came to Cologne. In fact, yesterday I read a newspaper article, and, while I definitely did not understand every word, I was able to use context clues in order to fully comprehend the text. Practice and immersion truly are the keys to improvement. Repeatedly reading, hearing, and speaking words has allowed me to become much more comfortable with the language.
Despite my progress and wonderful experience, I have found two things incredibly frustrating about learning German in Germany. First, I often recognize a word in a conversation or in a text but cannot recall its meaning. I have (slowly) learned not to beat myself up when this inevitably happens; rather, I try to really focus on the word in order to commit it to my long-term memory. I am not always successful, but I have found this to be much more constructive than self-loathing and mental torment.
Second, I often find myself in conversations in which I wish to express an idea or an opinion, but I simply am not capable of doing so in German. I must speak slowly and simply, and it is very frustrating to not be able to express myself how I would like to. I know that with time will come a better command of the language, but for now my struggles are quite trying.
That being said, I am still loving it here! I am going to make it a goal in my last few weeks to visit the area surrounding Cologne.
Now that my German is a little better, I also hope to embark on some of the community interaction tasks. I have spoken to other people about many of the issues that are outlined in the tasks, but I want to make a more robust effort in order to really learn more about the world outside of America.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
Last week was my most active yet. Two of the students in my class are huge NBA fans, and they told me that they really wanted to watch a game of the NBA Finals. After a couple of minutes searching on the internet and a few interesting telephone calls, we finally found a bar that was showing a rerun of the game. We invited the entire class and quite a few students ended up coming. The whole night they peppered me with questions about the NBA, the rules of basketball, and the culture surrounding the sport. I believe that I have said this in every blog post yet, but, for me, it is such an incredible experience to converse with my fellow students about their views on the US and their own culture – especially when it pertains to basketball!
The next day one of those two NBA fans asked me to come play basketball with him at an outdoor park in Cologne. I enthusiastically agreed and we met up for a couple hours of conversation and sport, but nothing too intense. While we were playing he invited me to a barbeque that he and his German girlfriend were throwing with many of her friends, all of whom are from Germany. Again, I happily obliged, and we set off for the park. It was a beautiful day, and we ended up staying at the barbeque for over five hours.
I’ve also spent a lot of time walking through the older parts of Cologne. Coming from the States, it is amazing to see cobblestone streets and such a high concentration of centuries old buildings. My teacher is born and raised in Cologne, and she considers herself Kӧlsch, which is a term used to describe the regional dialect, food, and culture. She actually gave us a list of some traditional Kӧlsch words for a variety of everyday items like chicken, onion, and pub. We even listened to a song that is sung in the Kӧlsch dialect. It really sounds like a completely different language! The German dialects are a simple reminder that national borders do not always delineate homogenous cultures, and regional differences can be deep and pronounced.
With the G-7 summit being held in Bavaria this last weekend, I was often engaged by class members on my views of the US’ role in the world. In particular, two students were keenly interested about my opinions. One student, an Iraqi, has two brothers who fight for the Iraqi military and often talks to me about ISIS and the US-led fight against the extremists. He is supportive of US military aid, although a childhood in Baghdad has understandably left him a little skeptical of heavy American military presence. The other student hails from the Ukraine, and she is interested in my views on the Russia-Ukraine situation. Her concerns are much more Euro-oriented, as she sees European powers – such as Germany – as the first line of defense. That being said, American influence reaches all parts of the world, and our government’s stance on the Ukraine conflict can impact European leaders, as the G-7 summit demonstrates.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
Now that my German skills and my comfort level Germany have significantly improved, I have set about completing some of the cultural immersion tasks that are meant to expose us to the culture on a slightly deeper level. I went to a traditional German restaurant and ordered “Reibekuchen”, which are German potato and onion fritters. Reibekuchen is eaten throughout Germany, but it is especially popular in the Rhineland around Cologne. In fact, in the greater Cologne area the term “Reibekuchentag” refers to the Fridays when Catholics were traditionally forbidden from eating meat. They are typically sold during Christmas time, and they are often peddled from street-side stands. Although we may think of potatoes as a German staple, it actually took a royal initiative by Friedrich the Great – the Potato Decree of 1756 – in order to entrench potato cultivation in German culture. This visionary king understood the immense nutritional value of the plant, and his efforts were meant to help keep his people from starvation.
The Reibekuchen were absolutely delicious. They were served with apple sauce and “Schwarzbrot”, or black bread, which is common in the Rhineland. As with any traditional Cologne food dish, a Kӧlsch beer rounds off the culinary experience. I have found that opinions on Kӧlsch are varied depending on who you ask, but a few traditional brands, such as Früh and Reissdorf, are common favorites. Interestingly, when I asked my waiter to explain to me the Reibekuchen essentials, he was completely stumped. He did not know their historical significance nor how one makes them. Yet, he did say that they are often sold during Christmas time and on street corners. This expedition has taught exposed me to a new aspect of German culture and provided me with a new favorite dish – I call that a win/win situation!
I also paid a visit to a tourism office in order to ask about the holiday of Karneval. Cologne is famous for its extravagant, nearly week-long Karneval celebration, and I wanted to get a better understanding of this interesting holiday. A very friendly woman in the tourism office explained to me that Karneval, or the “Fifth Season”, officially starts at 11 minutes past 11 o’clock on the eleventh of November. Yet, Advent and Christmas delay the true celebrations until after the New Year. The week-long street celebration, also known as “the crazy days”, begins on the Thursday preceding Ash Wednesday. The highlight of the festival is “Rose Monday”, which is the Monday before Ash Wednesday. Throughout this week people parade through the streets in costumes and sing songs in the Kӧlsch dialect. It was, in fact, so cantankerous in the 18th and early 19th centuries that a committee was formed in order to bring a bit of order to the celebration. Karneval has obvious Catholic roots, but historical influences also play a part in the festival. During Karneval one will also see the Corps Troops dressed up as soldiers. I read independently (the tourism office did not explain this) that the Corps Troops are meant to mock the French Revolutionary Troops who had occupied Cologne during the early 1800s!
After this visit to the tourism office, I asked my German teacher, who is a lifelong resident of Cologne, if she could shed some light on the festival. She echoed many of the same points, including the Catholic roots, costumes, and the “Fifth Season”. Yet, her account of the festivities centered much more on the pride that Cologne and its people put into and receive from their Karneval celebration. She said that hearing the Kӧlsch dialect in songs and in speech made her feel at home, and she really saw the celebration as a source of pride in her city. To her, its ancient roots and its regional characteristics both connect it to a larger family of celebrations and distinguish it as a unique event.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
In my last blog post, I want to describe my experience completing two more of the cultural immersion tasks. I spoke with my teacher, a local librarian, and a German student in his twenties regarding their views on the US. One striking similarity between all three of these people was that they all strongly supported President Obama. They expressed regret that he was leaving office next year, and they were all extremely excited that only a few weeks earlier he was in Bavaria in order to attend the G7 summit. The two older ladies were a little hesitant to give a deep account of their opinions about the States, but their views were quite similar. They both named the US as a key ally moving forward in world diplomacy, and they commented on the long-standing partnership between our two countries. My teacher noted that the US was a key figure in bringing down the Berlin Wall, and she was optimistic that the friendly relationship between our two countries could continue.
The librarian believes that the US foreign policy is almost always too strong (this view was echoed by my teacher, but much more subtly). She noted that, despite much European condemnation, the US went to war in Iraq. I found it interesting that the young student was much more concerned with American culture. He knew much more than I did about American films, and he expressed a strong desire to travel to the US in the future. He also said that most of his knowledge of Americans comes from stereotypes (i.e., that we are all loud, overweight, self-confident, and only can speak English), but he did seem to have a very positive view of the States.
The other cultural task that I completed had me speak with members of a cultural minority in Germany about their situation in the country. I spoke to two Turkish men, one who worked at a local restaurant and one who spent a few weeks in my language class. They both expressed much gratitude for the ability to live and work in Germany. The restaurant worker in particular was incredibly thankful that he was able to bring his whole family to Germany, send his kids to good schools, and make an honest living. His German was quite good, and he said that he attended a language course for an entire year in order to integrate himself into society. He lamented the fact that many Turks in Germany do not integrate into German society, but rather stay isolated in almost exclusively Turkish communities. He also commented on the number of unemployed in Germany, and how he was thankful to have a job. He thinks that Germans treat him fairly, but that he doesn’t have as many opportunities because of language and some cultural barriers.
The man in my class has worked for a Telecommunications firm in Germany for many years. He expressed disappointment that many Turkish people in Germany cannot vote, and he thinks that more Turks need to become fully integrated into German society. For example, he told me that many young Turks feel trapped between two worlds – Germany and Turkey. They speak a mixture of the two languages and have, overall, lower employment and educational success than ethnic Germans. Yet, he noted that there is a vibrant cultural exchange between the two countries, and he hopes that with more counseling and effort into integration the situation for young Turks can improve.
I have had an absolutely amazing time in Cologne. It will be an experience that I will never forget, and I am incredibly grateful that I was able to take part in such a wonderful program. Thank you to everyone who helped make it possible!
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
While it may be obvious, I must say that is incredibly easier to get a feel for a language when you are living in a country in which the target language is spoken. When you must speak the language in almost every interaction that you have, you begin to pick up on intricacies and nuances that would otherwise go unnoticed. You must be cognizant of cultural differences at all times. When you recognize something unfamiliar, you should attempt to incorporate it into your own database of cultural knowledge. I am thrilled to be able to say that I, to some degree, met all of my pre-departure goals. I am quite able to communicate with native German speakers on a variety of subjects, and my knowledge of German culture and comfort level in the society dramatically increased. I do believe that I can speak, read, and write at a level two semesters beyond my previous German language instruction. I had hoped to be able to completely comprehend German news, but that goal was slightly over ambitious. I can read more simple German news sources, but complex, in-depth commentaries on current events are slightly out of my skill range.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
My SLA Grant Experience proved to be the most valuable time in my life thus far. I experienced a different culture, learned a different language, and met individuals from all over the world. I think that such an experience truly opens one’s eyes to the diversity and dynamism that define our world. At the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, I think one also can see the similarities and common threads that bind humanity together. Humans are humans, and we all tick in a similar way. Personally, I held a romanticized view of Europe before I traveled across the Atlantic. Yet, when I arrived, I quickly realized that Germans were very similar to Americans. I don’t mean to play down the cultural differences between Germany and the United States, but on some level I think that, in a globalized society, we need to recognize that people are motivated by similar concerns. I would advise anyone who is even marginally considering an SLA Program to apply. It truly is the opportunity of a lifetime, and it will change the way you look at the world – for the better.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
With the invaluable experience, contacts, and language skills that I have gained as a result of my SLA Grant experience, I plan to continue to work within an international context. Whether that is in academia or in the corporate world has yet to be determined; however, I am positive that I want to continue to work internationally. During the rest of my time at Notre Dame, I plan to further my German education through coursework and cultural activities. I am actually writing my senior thesis on Belgium’s German-speaking community, so I will have heavy exposure to the German language throughout my senior year. As I mentioned before, I would love to work either with a German firm or somehow occupy myself with German themes. My German language skills will undoubtedly help me accomplish that goal. I also formed several great friendships during my time abroad. I plan to keep in touch with these great individuals and hopefully visit them again in the future. In my opinion, the most valuable part of the SLA experience is the impact that an extended period of time abroad has on your worldview. I am a different person after having studied in Germany, and I am excited to apply and cultivate my new opinions in the years to come.