Name: Nick Fallon
Location of Study: Freiburg, Germany
Program of Study: Goethe Institut
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies
A brief personal bio:
I’m Nick Fallon, from Cleveland, Ohio. I am a finance major with a German minor, and I’ll be going to Freiburg this summer to advance my language abilities. I’ve taken German for 7 years, including 3 semesters here at Notre Dame. I’ve never been to Europe, and I’m very excited and grateful for the opportunity to study in Germany!
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
My SLA Grant is important to me because it will let me take the next step in the evolution of my German language abilities. I feel like my language growth has stagnated somewhat, I believe that, by going abroad and being totally immersed in the language and culture of Germany while taking classes at Goethe Institut, my language comprehension and speaking abilities will both improve significantly. Therefore, when I come back to school, I will be able to take full advantage of whatever high level German class I decide to take. I also hope to someday work in Germany, and I believe that both having the experience of living in Germany and the collateral improvement of my language skills will help me greatly in achieving that goal.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
There are several things I hope to achieve with my SLA grant. I hope to be conversationally competent by the end of my trip: aka, to be able to hold a conversation effectively without having to ask the other person to repeat or have them slow down their talking. I hope that the classes I take at the Goethe Institut, along with the everyday conversations in German, improve the finer points of my writing and speech. I hope to utilize the cultural events sponsored by Goethe to gain a greater knowledge and appreciation of German culture. I hope that after this summer and I take a high-level German class (perhaps a film class), my greater cultural and language understanding will allow me to fully make use of it.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to travel around Germany and hold a competent conversation about daily topics (ordering at a restaurant, travel directions,etc) or cultural topics (movies, soccer, etc).
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to use the structure of the German language without having to think about it (aka not thinking about gender of various nouns, perfect my adjective endings, etc).
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to read texts originally written in German and understand them without (or minimal use of) an English-German dictionary.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
I plan to maximize my experience by arriving in Germany 2 days early and staying with some family friends that live in Frankfurt, so I can adapt to life in an all-German speaking country. I also have (and will continue) to utilize my friends who went to Freiburg on an SLA grant last year as a resource on what to do while in Freiburg, and how to make a smooth transition to life in Germany. I will also research the city of Freiburg and its surrounding area for cultural opportunities, and I will practice my German speaking and reading before going abroad.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
Hello! Sorry for starting my blog a little late, I’ve been very busy studying at the Goethe Institute and exploring the wonderful city of Freiburg. My first week and a half here has been fantastic. After spending a few days in Frankfurt with some family friends (and learning how to survive jet lag), I took a train down to Freiburg and to the Goethe Institute there.
Located on the edge of the Schwarzwald (the Black Forest of Grimm fairytale fame) and nestled at the foot of some small mountains, Freiburg is a beautiful city. From almost anywhere you can see a mountain carpeted in deep green rising up into the sky, and you are free to hike any of them. The architecture is varied, from the Late Middle Ages beauty of the Freiburger Münster (the cathedral) to more modern architecture outside of the city center. Freiburg is shockingly easy to navigate, even for someone like me who gets lost in parking lots. The street food is both delicious and cheap: in fact, almost everything here is relatively inexpensive, a welcome surprise, given that I assumed the opposite based on other people’s stories of Europe.
Classes here and my cultural assimilation have also gone surprisingly smoothly. I’ve been place into the B1 class, which is one of the biggest at Goethe (16 students). Our professor has been very efficiently guiding us through the wilds of German grammar, in some cases clearing up aspects that I had never quite wrapped my head around. Because our class is so culturally varied, with students from the US, Iran, Mexico, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Columbia, and South Korea, German has naturally become the lingua franca, as we have no other options. While in the city, everyone I have met has had no problem with my occasionally fragmented German, which is very comforting as I try to adapt to German culture. Life here is easy: go to class in the morning, grab some street food from a bakery or a bratwurst vendor, hike a mountain if you feel like it, whatever you want. The students here at Goethe are wonderful friends, and I’m already sad about having to leave them and this beautiful city in 16 days. I’ll be back with another blog post this weekend that will go more in depth on my language learning experience thus far. Bis bald!
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Hello again! I promised last time that I would talk about my language learning experience so far, and so I’ll break it down into 2 parts: in-class and out of class.
In-class is much like a class at Notre Dame, just longer. I’m in class from 8:30AM-1PM, with 2 breaks (15 minutes and 30 minutes, respectively). The class is (of course) conducted entirely in German, and most of my classmate’s German is about as good as mine. In the mornings we’ll normally do some conversational exercises, often about what we learned the day before, before moving into the heavier lifting of grammar. For the most part, we don’t linger on any one part of grammar too long: there are so few classes and so many topics of discussion that it would be irresponsible to do so. However, our professor is excellent at making sure we understand the structures and rules of what we’re discussing in class, and giving us a good deal of homework so that it sinks in. Later in the day, we will usually focus more on cultural learning (although our professor will often integrate it with what we learned earlier in class), either by reading(in class or for homework) and then discussing a text or texts, or by listening to and discussing a presentation given by a member of the class about a certain subject. For example, I gave a presentation today on the history and attributes of various German cities, states, and city-states.
Out of class is somewhat different. Since there are so many Americans (and so many of the non-Americans have excellent English), it is easy for conversations with other students to devolve to English instead of German, especially when people are tired or worn out by class. One strategy I and my friends have found useful is to force ourself to speak German for a specified length of time when we are hanging out together. This is especially effective when their are several people in the group, as the peer pressure keeps people for resorting to English.
One would think that by going out into the city, it would be easier to use German because everyone else is. However, it can be just as hard as when you’re with English speakers. Grammar mistakes and obvious American accents often prompt Germans to switch to English, even when you try to keep using German. I’ve seen more than one comedic scene with a German waiter speaking English to an American student speaking German, both expressing themselves imperfectly. Therefore, both the goal and the key is to speak German with confidence, at least a little bit of the local accent, and with relatively few grammar mistakes. It is difficult, but I felt like I had really progressed when I got through several conversations (with waiters and locals) in German, without them trying to use English to help me. That’s all I have for today, so auf wiedersehen!
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Hi everyone! Sad to say it’s my last week here in Freiburg, just 5 days left. Today I’m just going to write a briefer post about the B1 language test and it’s relationship to the B1 class, and then I’ll write a more holistic summary of my time here either Friday or Saturday.
I had to take the B1 language test to get course credit and was slightly worried about it, only because my B1 class is very heavy on grammar, including the more difficult forms of expression like Konjunktiv 2 and Passiv. However, I should not have worried: the exam has surprisingly little connection to the material in class. The test is composed of a speaking, listening, reading, and writing component. I took the last 3 sections on Saturday, with the speaking section coming on Wednesday. The exam was much more like a standardized test than a grammar exam : the reading was mostly reading comprehension, the listening was read reasonably slowly, and the writing prompts were both short and relatively simple. I hope I’m not coming off like I’m bragging (and I’m always nervous to talk about a test before I know how I did on it, and it would certainly be ironic if I didn’t pass after all this), but I was just surprised at how different the test was from the class. Frankly, I found the class much more difficult than the test. So, for whomever is reading in the future and trying to decide whether they should stay in B1 or ask to go up to B2 (and God bless you if you are), I would say that if you’re really looking to perfect your grammar you should go to B1, but if you are looking for a higher level/more challenging/more prestigious exam, go to B2.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
So ends my month in Freiburg. By this time tomorrow, I’ll be home: for the moment, I’m in Frankfurt. I’ll probably be able to write better and more reflectively when I’ve had a few weeks back in the States, but I’d like to write now while my impressions are still fresh.
This whole experience was just incredible. I never got depressed or alienated because I was living in a foreign culture, which I know can be a risk. Part of this was from living in Freiburg, a city known to have relatively nice/polite inhabitants, unlike Berlin, Hamburg, or the entirety of France. Another was because I made some really good friends. One of the cool things about living in an apartment complex among students from a bunch of different countries is that no one really knows anyone, and so everyone is looking to make friends. As long as you’re not an out-and-out jerk, you’ll always have someone to hang out with. A third reason is that the Goethe Institut ran everything very well. From what I heard, everyone like their professors. I loved mine, both because she was a very good teacher and because she was always positive without being annoying or cloying. Finally, I felt like my German really improved on an almost daily basis. That constant sense of forward momentum is both a great feeling and a reason to keep working to get better.
Germany is also just a nice place to live, at least as a student. There is something to be said for living in a cosmopolitan city with several hundred thousand people, and yet always having a mountain in view, ready to be climbed whenever you feel like it. Everything is cheap, especially if you’re willing to cook your own food. What I’m trying to say is that I got to live a pretty comfortable life while making big strides in my language abilities and experiencing Europe for the first time. I don’t know what more I could ask for.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
One thing I learned about the language acquisition process is that it’s easier than you think to make gains in your ability, but you need to make more of those gains than you originally thought. My German definitely improved by leaps and bounds while I was abroad, but that improvement also made me realize how many gaps and deficiencies I still have to improve upon. In terms of my goals, I at least partially achieved all of them, but I did not fully achieve any of them. I was able to have conversations in German about varied subjects (soccer, film, etc), but there were only so deep in those conversations I could go: I could discuss what I saw in a general way, but I found it hard to talk about themes (for film) or detailed strategy (for soccer). However, I do feel like I built a platform from which I can build upon so that I eventually can have those conversations.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
In keeping with my first reflection, my biggest insight is that you can and should keep progressing in your language ability, since there is always more you can do to improve. One interesting thing about living in Germany for a month is that it changed my worldview, but in an unexpected way. I came into the program expecting some culture shock and difficulty adjusting to new social norms. However, despite the skin-deep differences in many everyday areas (sports, food, transportation, music), the people I encountered were cut from more or less the same cloth as the people I know in the US. This discovery was reassuring, because it allows for learning from other cultures (I’m now a big fan of breakfast meats and open faced sandwiches) while reinforcing everyone’s common humanity. My advice to someone considering applying for an SLA grant or study abroad in the summer would be 1.)without a doubt, go for it, and 2.) put in work before, after, and especially during your trip, because you’ll make back your investment and then some.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
I plan to keep using my language abilities in German class (I’m currently in a seminar about early 20th century German modernism), to keep myself sharp and grow in my rhetorical, critical, and analytical abilities. I plan to watch more German movies (particularly from Fassbender and Herzog, but also some newer ones) for the same reasons, and also as a way to keep myself in the stream of German culture. Finally, I hope to someday work in Germany, perhaps in Frankfurt: my finance degree with a German minor or supplementary major (I haven’t decided yet) would hopefully allow me to work for a firm in the banking capital of Germany, as well as one of the major banking cities in the whole EU. My SLA grant has given me the confidence that I could live and flourish in Germany, speaking German, and it also gave me the language practice and baseline competence to make that a reality.