Name: Kelly Smith
Location of Study: Radolfzell, Germany
Program of Study: Carl Duisberg Intensive Course Plus
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies
A brief personal bio:
Hello! I am Kelly Smith, and I am going to Radolfzell, Germany to study German this summer. While I am originally from Pittsburg, Kansas, my home under the dome is Pasquerilla East Hall. I am a History major with an anticipated minor in German, accompanied by either Peace Studies or Catholic Social teaching.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
Receiving the SLA grant will propel me in my understanding of German, thus aiding my academic and professional career. This year has served as my first experience with the German language, so this trip will be a key factor in my study abroad decision. Also, the language classes will allow me to potentially test out of the last college requirement, thus advancing me in the minor. More importantly, it will be crucial to my desired career as a museum curator at a Holocaust Memorial Museum. Being well-versed in German culture and fluent in the German language will be essential for conducting research, networking with other museums, and acquiring artifacts for museum exhibits. In allowing me to expand my German knowledge, the SLA grant is allowing me to expand my horizons as a student, and, eventually, as a professional.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
For me, the most appealing factor of a language intensive summer study abroad experience is the sink or swim environment. There is no English opt-out, and I believe this will simultaneously help and force me to develop more of an active vocabulary. My personal struggle with learning languages is the transition from passive to active fluency, but being in surrounded by German all the time will enable me to be able to speak and write German as well as I can read and listen to it. German will be more than just a class I am enrolled in, but a lifestyle I will be immersed in for a month. This will bring out the best in my pronunciation and vocabulary.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to converse in German in a natural manner.
- At the end of the summer, I will be informed on southern German culture, customs, and traditions.
- At the end of the summer, I will have increased my proficiency in German by a semester beyond my current placement at Notre Dame.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
Preparation is key to taking full advantage of my time in Germany. I have a German radio app on my iPhone to familiarize myself with the language through music, and hopefully be able to discuss my favorite songs with locals. In addition to this, I intend to speak with my professors and German students at Notre Dame about German culture so I have a greater idea of what to expect when I arrive. Once I am in Germany, I plan to partake in the many cultural events offered by the Carl Duisberg program. These will give me experience with more of German culture than I could have with just my host family. However, I do intend to really get to know my host family, because the language spoken at home will help solidify all I learn in class, as well as inform me on colloquialisms.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
This first week has opened my eyes to the importance of language. Sure, I had always known that ‘communication is important’ and ‘words matter’ and other clichéd ideas promoting eloquence and rhetorical skill, but this week cemented these facts very quickly.
I first realized the value of clear communication through what some might call mishaps, but I would more fondly refer to as learning experiences. The first of these was merely hours after making it through customs. I had purchased train tickets from Munich to Radolfzell, found my way to the correct platform, succeeded in my first train switch, only to hear that the train I was on would be “splitting”, with the front half going to my desired destination, Ulm, and the tail staying in a different town. Naturally, I was very concerned and tried to get as close to the front as possible. However, I exited my train car to move forward, but the front car doors would not open, and, five stressful seconds of pleading later, I was stranded on an abandoned platform in Who-Knows-Where-Germany with two suitcases and only one year of German. While we had covered the basics of train travel in my German 101 and 102 classes, there is a difference between speaking about hypothetical situations in an American classroom and the situation being your new reality. Luckily, with the words I did know and the help of a kind German lady, I was able to board the next train an hour and a half later.
While at the time my prospects seemed bleak, the accidental experience taught me how to navigate the train system, how to read the departure and arrival signs, and that I could always count on German punctuality. Because I had this under my belt, I felt confident in my ability to navigate my way to Switzerland the next weekend for a day trip to the Stein am Rheine. The travel went off without a hitch this time, and, had I not gained that ability to understand the trains, I would not have gotten to stand in the mist of the largest waterfall in Europe and eat my weight in Swiss chocolate.
Another learning experience was conversing with my fellow students at the Carl Duisberg Centre (CDC). I was the only native English speaker in the whole institute, and, with little confidence in my spoken German, I was paralyzingly shy. However, the students who had been there longer than I understood my reticence and sought to meet me where I was, asking me first simple questions to warm me up to difficult ones. I might have spoken three sentences on my first day in class, but by Friday, I was contributing to our conversation about global politics. While I still receive ample gentle corrections, the fact that people still attempted to talk to me in German loosened my tongue and made me less self-conscious, and that is a crucial step.
While I have had many failures turn into successes, there are a few points I would like to improve upon. The first is avoiding English speakers. English is the lingua franca amongst the French, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean speakers at the CDC even more so than German, and while this helps for clarification, it does not challenge me in my linguistic skills. It is especially difficult for me because they know I am the only American, and they want to practice their English with a native speaker. This next week I will concentrate on cordially reminding my fellow students that we came for German, not English.
On a positive note, I found an absolute treasure on my host mother’s bookshelf: the complete set of Harry Potter books in German! I have since completed the first one and am moving on to the second. This helps me to think in German more, as well as be able to see the linguistic patterns of spoken German spelled out in its dialogue. It solidifies what I learn throughout the day, and it is a perfect way to simultaneously decompress from a day of learning while learning!
This week has certainly been a whirlwind, but I have already grown in my knowledge of German language and culture. I have had learning experiences that have transformed into positive experiences, and I look forward to taking steps to better my communication skills in the coming week.
(Also, while typing this I have constantly wanted to use German words and grammar, so that is an immensely gratifying sign of progress!)
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Week 3 began with a trip to the city if Munich. This was an interesting experience because it allowed me to experience the language in a different light. The city is a much more of an explosion of German all at once. With the rapid pace of city life, people are constantly speaking, music is playing, and there are signs everywhere. I also could not help but noticing the odd ways they use English words in their advertisements and on their clothes. The connotations of the words are always a little off, which makes me wonder if some of the words I know in German actually have a nuanced meaning to a native speaker.
Another event of this week was my completion of the second Harry Potter auf Deutsch. I enjoyed reading these so much that I went to the local bookstore and purchased myself Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Book Thief in German so I can continue the practice at home.
I was able to watch a plethora of German commercials on TV, and the occasional episode of The Big Bang Theory. This, in addition to listening to German audio-books, tuned my ear towards quickly spoken German.
I am very pleased that I am developing habits here that I can continue to use at home. This week really taught me that language can really be applied to all areas of life, not just our time in the classroom.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
My final week in Germany was incredibly bittersweet. It was then that I truly felt the difference the immersion had created. I was having successful conversations with my host mom and sisters, my sentence structure was becoming more varied and complex, and I was participating in class discussions more freely and openly. My ability to speak and understand had reached a new level, and, as much as I was sad to go home, I was also very motivated to return to the States and start making flashcards to go through every day so that I won’t lose all the progress I made (oddly enough, I could not find notecards anywhere in Germany, so that was something to look forward to when I got back).
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
1) Social Topic- One of the current controversial topics in Germany and Austria is immigration. This issue was not just confined to newspapers, but was splattered across walls in graffiti. As I biked to a neighboring city that shared a border with Switzerland, I would see pro-immigration messages written in bright colors (and, ironically, in English) on underpasses for cyclists. These messages were very surprising, and I decided to ask my German teacher, my German tutor, and my friend from Austria about their opinions on immigration. Despite the range of ages and backgrounds of these three people, their personal opinions were all very similar. They all believed that the immigrants were not causing any harm, and they were not particularly bothered by the presence of immigrants. The only problem they had with immigrants was language barriers. Unlike English in America, German is the official language of Germany and Austria, and they thought that it would be better if they had some grasp of the language. My Austrian friend said that not all people felt this acceptance of immigrants. She told me that some of the older people in Austria are very anti-immigrant, particularly in regards to Muslims. Apparently, there is a political party that would like to stop women from wearing hijab and forbid people from passing out the Quran on street corners. However, these were not the majority, and she assured me that, in general, Austrians are fairly accepting of immigrants.
2) Holiday- I must have incredible timing, because I chose what are probably the only four weeks out of the year with three Church holidays. Church holidays might not seem to relevant to Americans, but in southern Germany, Church holidays are state holidays. Schools close, shops close, and all the gorgeous churches in tiny villages have mass. However, despite the purported and highly celebrated Catholic identity of southern Germany, no one I spoke to really knew what the holidays were. They were satisfied with knowing it was a church holiday, so they did not have to go to work. It was actually very comical. The conversation typically went like this.
German: Tomorrow is a Church holiday.
Me: Okay! Which holiday?
German: A Church holiday!
Sometimes someone would mention it was the Ascension or Corpus Christi, but rarely did they seem bothered (or, in many cases, able) to elaborate.
My favorite of these mysterious but beloved Church holidays was Corpus Christi. Before I went to mass, my host mother raved about how I must see the flowers and the procession. I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant, and I was surprised that the procession into the Church was less grand than it had been for the Ascension. The mass seemed very normal, and, slightly disappointed, I left the church… and found myself in a parade complete with a marching band. The congregation walked around the town with the Blessed Sacrament, stopping to sing and say prayers at little stands decorated with flowers and candles. We did this because Corpus Christi is the celebration of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, and carrying the Blessed Sacrament around the city is sign of veneration.
3) Minority- I listened to some of my African friends who had lived in Germany for months speak about their experiences as a minority. They said that the typical reaction they received from Germans for their skin color was, if anything, surprise. Very rarely were they met with any hostility or racism during their time in Germany. They said it was no worse than anywhere else in Europe, and it saddened me that they were resigned to the fact that they could be judged by their skin color wherever they went. The main place they encountered problems was in immigration lines, a sentiment echoed by my Colombian friends. They noticed that they were typically asked more questions and had longer and more thorough inspections the people around them.
4) Before you leave America for Europe, Americans will always tell you about how obnoxious Europeans think we are and how they all despise us coming in with our white sneakers and tacky tourist clothes, but my time in Germany proved to me that this couldn’t be further from the truth. American TV shows and movies dubbed in German were on ever channel, American music played in stores, and many German teenagers spoke in English to each other for fun. Everyone would ask me about America, wanting to know where I was from, and telling me they’d love to visit New York, Miami, or California. One gentleman, hearing that I was from Kansas, starting raving about the Wild, Wild West and Buffalo Bill. It was almost embarrassing how much everyone appreciated America. Even when I would mention some the downfalls of America, such as our poor language programs before and during high school, they would argue with me that this was not a problem, because everyone speaks English. It was a shocking but flattering experience to be constantly reminded that everyday citizens of other countries are fascinated by the United States.
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
I found that my ability to speak German was greatly accelerated by being totally immersed in the language. When I first arrived, I was terrified to actually say anything in German for fear of being pegged as an American. Fortunately, I overcame this fear as I began taking classes and speaking with my host family, achieving my goal of speaking German in a natural manner. While I feel my ability to speak with confidence and clarity has increased dramatically, I did not gain quite as much knowledge of grammar as I had hoped due to the timing of my class in Germany. I am not skipping a semester of German, as I intended before I went, but I am strengthening the foundation I have gained by immersing myself in the language.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
My understanding and appreciation of the German culture has been enhanced by this experience. Living with a host family, going to classes, and embracing the community broadened my view of everyday life in Germany, confirming some of my ideas and completely transforming others. Not only did I gain insight into German culture, but the international nature of the Carl Duisberg Institute radically illuminated my world view. I was in a class with people of all ages from five different continents. Some were as close as Switzerland, while others hailed from South Korea, Tunisia, and Colombia. This diversity encouraged conversations about larger world issues, as well as national customs and traditions. Holidays, matrimony, education, and a wide variety of concepts were discussed with open and curious minds in the language we all came together to learn.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
My experiences in Germany have spurred me to become a more globally minded and culturally competent citizen of the world. Not only has my interest in Germany deepened, but my curiosity about other cultures, nations, and peoples. I look forward to further developing my proficiency in German in my classes at Notre Dame. I hope to conduct research in Germany over breaks, and my SLA experience will help me to be confident in navigating the country and communicating effectively with those I encounter. I learned a great deal about myself as I reacted to the new and exciting environment that I was in, and these lessons will assist me as I make decisions about my study abroad and graduate school plans.