Carlson, Henry


Name: Henry Carlson
Location of Study: Freiburg, Germany
Program of Study: Goethe Institute
Sponsors: Innsbruk Fund



A brief personal bio:

I’m a Political Science and German major from Fairfax, Virginia in the Class of 2017, and an active member of Notre Dame’s Air Force ROTC detachment.  I also find to time to play for ND’s Club Baseball team.  When I’m back home I like to take advantage of my pilot’s license and fly my friends around the Shenandoah Valley.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

The SLA grant is especially important to me as a member of Notre Dame’s Air Force ROTC detachment because studying abroad during the academic year is much more difficult, since I would be falling behind in the ROTC program.  To get such a great opportunity to have an educational and cultural experience in Germany for over a month means a lot because of this.  It will also help me become a much better German student as I pursue the German major.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

Of course one of the most important things I want to achieve is to really become a lot better at understanding and speaking the German language, to the point that I could maybe even fool a German for a split second or two about my country of origin. Beyond that, though, the fact that I will be in Germany provides so many more opportunities for growth past simple language comprehension.  I really want to gain a better understanding of German culture and politics by interacting with real Germans and experiencing life in their country.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to carry out meaningful conversations in German about any topic.

2. At the end of the summer, I will speak German with an accent and inflection that is comparable with those of native German speakers.

3. At the end of the summer, I will have a better understanding of German domestic politics and how it affects their relationship with Europe and the world.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Taking a course at the Goethe Institut gives me a great chance to maximize my experience culturally as they organize outings and events for their students that get them involved in and around the city while exposing them to various German cultural themes. This is especially true in Freiburg. For example, the Institut building itself is very close to the Freiburg Theater, which hosts plays and concerts year-round, so there are multiple occasions during the 4-week program that the Institut will take students to attend. Freiburg is also blessed with its location in the middle of the beautiful Black Forest, and the Goethe Institut takes full advantage by putting together hiking excursions through the hills and woods surrounding the city.



Reflective Journal Entry 1:

Alright, well my first week in Germany has been a busy one, to say the least. Diving into the language in and outside of class at the Goethe Institute has really tested me so far, but I’m enjoying the challenge, and it’s definitely cool to see myself improving every day in real conversations with real Germans. I guess the best way to show you how I’ve done that is to just recount some of the many exciting experiences I’ve had so far.

I got into Frankfurt on Friday morning, May 30, exhausted out of my mind; the aftereffects of your typical transoceanic flight with too many babies on board. I have family friends in Frankfurt who came to pick me up at the airport, and I’ll admit it was pretty difficult keeping up with their German in my jetlagged state of mind. I probably spent most of that first day nodding blankly at their questions, while wondering what exactly it was I was agreeing to. They probably thought I was a very nice, pleasant dimwit. The rest of the weekend went much more smoothly once I had gotten some sleep, though, as I spent my days playing soccer in the back with their three highly energetic young kids and bumbling my way through the city like a typical foreigner, with a little bit of hiking thrown in there too on the last day. I even had what I kind of see as my first great European adventure, when their nine year old daughter and I took the S-Bahn into the middle of the city so I could buy a book at Hugendubel (German Barnes & Noble). We both managed to make it back in one piece with the book in hand, a tremendous victory for my self-esteem!

I made my way on down to Freiburg last Monday morning to check in at the Goethe Institute and get all settled into my new home for the month. Freiburg really is an amazing place, I honestly think someone would have to have a screw loose to pass up an opportunity to visit. It’s not as big and exciting (or intimidating, depending on your point of view) a city as Munich or Berlin, for example, but it still has so much to offer, and an absolutely beautiful Altstadt that is just classic German architecture and culture at its best.

I’m loving my classes here so far. One of the best parts of studying at the Goethe Institute is meeting people from all over the world and having a common language (outside of English) to speak. But that’s still just five and a half hours out of my very long days. There’s just so much to do, and I’m thrilled to say that I can’t complain about being bored. One of the big highlights for me so far was our first visit to the daily market place they have outside of the Muenster (the big church). Not only did I get an introduction to currywurst at Paul’s Imbiss (the very best wurst you can find in Freiburg, I’ve been told), we also sat there and talked with a Freiburg Uni student for about half an hour, completely auf Deutsch. He was just a cool, outgoing german guy who was honestly interested in a group of people his age learning his language. He even invited us to play soccer and grill out with some of his friends that night. Now, it did start raining torrentially that afternoon and didn’t stop all night, and as a result we didn’t go play soccer, and we’ll probably never see the guy again, but that isn’t the point of the story. The point is I’ve found that I know enough German to not only survive here, but to also avoid living as a loner on the fringes of society. And I think that’s just swell.

Anyway, it’s been a heck of a first week, and I’m hoping to keep this German language train a’rollin’ this week. Bis Spaeter!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

So it’s been a tad over a week since my last post, but that’s only because we’re constantly in motion here in Freiburg. And I gotta say, I prefer it that way. The days and nights have just been so packed with things to see and people to see them with, that German class has become the most relaxing part of life. No complaints about that, though. Our Lehrerin keeps the classes interesting and fun, and I’m definitely learning so much. Still, the class is only good for a small portion of the German I’ve been learning. Just getting out in the city and going to the different events that the Goethe Institut has planned has given me the most valuable experience, I think, especially talking with the awesome young people they have running their cultural program. And I learned such colorful new words yesterday while watching the film they put on for us, “Fack ju Göhte!” Nothing I could share here, but useful colloquialisms all the same.

The most exciting moments of the last week or so have definitely come while watching the World Cup, outside of my recent conversation in the laundromat with a pantsless conspiracy theorist, but that’s a story for another time and place. The Germans are absolutely fanatical about their Fussball, though. The city has a massive public viewing for all the German games, where they cram 13,500 people into a parking lot for a sort of makeshift Mass of the Church of Soccertology. The atmosphere really is almost religious, in a drunken, rowdy sort of way. The prayers are a little louder, and the hymns are a little lewder, but the basic ideas are still there. Your Messiah today: Thomas Müller. The man scored three goals against Portugal, and turned water into Hefeweizen. The faithful were quite impressed.

Life isn’t all soccer, of course, we’ve also been taking big-time advantage of our location in the Schwarzwald. The landscape is absolutely beautiful, and we’ve gone on a couple hikes in the nearby Schauinsland. The first time I went up, last weekend, it was just one other ND friend and me, and we got this grand idea that we were going to take the cable car up to the top of the mountain and then hike down through the valley to Münstertal, some old village, for all we knew. And we really didn’t know much. Our route planning consisted of glancing at Google Earth and noting that we had to generally walk downhill towards the west. So I’m no Magellan. Although I won’t admit that we got horribly, hopelessly lost, I will say we ended up in some… unexpected locations. This was aided by our determination not to backtrack, which either came from an adventurous pride in our directional skills, or a simple laziness when faced with the prospect of walking back uphill. Most likely a little of both, though. Anyway, we ended up being forced to hop one or five fences and eventually found ourselves on some friendly Schwarzwälder’s farm. In the thickest, most incomprehensible Badisch accent I have yet to hear, he pointed us in the right direction. It was a time that I was very glad we could speak German. I’ve found that they really are open and friendly to foreigners here, as long as they try to speak the language. I wish I could say the same for the man’s cows, though. The right way sent us straight through a herd of them, and I don’t know if cows are territorial, but it definitely seemed like they were certain they were the sole owners of the path we were walking on. I don’t know if you’ve ever received a dirty look from a cow before, but believe me, it can happen. And had their own stench not been so strong, I’m convinced they would have smelled fear.

Anyway, week 2 (and most of week 3 now) was great, it’s just too bad that it seems like my time here in Freiburg is quickly coming to an end. Happily, I’m sure that next week will be even more crammed with adventures.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Alright, so I have to play catch-up with my blog posts a little bit, but luckily I have plenty of stories to tell. This one is from a couple of weeks ago, but I feel it’s interesting enough to take up a blog post. In my last post I briefly mentioned my encounter with a pantsless conspiracy theorist in the laundromat, and I said it was a story for another time and place. Well, the place hasn’t changed, but the time, unfortunately, has, leaving me with one week to write four blogs. Seeing as this story is still fresh in my mind (and how could it not be?) I’m going to go ahead and make good use of it.

So I walked into a Freiburg laundromat just a little after it opened, and it hadn’t really gotten very busy yet. It was just me and one other man, forty-something years old, sitting there reading the newspaper. I didn’t pay him any mind, and I put my clothes into the wash and started the cycle. When I turned around, though, I noticed that something was off about this guy. Namely, his pants. But he was just sitting there so quietly, casually reading the paper that I thought maybe this was just a cultural thing; maybe it’s totally cool in Germany to just chill in your tightey whiteys in the laundromat while your clothes wash. Kind of like at the Freiburg lake, where if you wanna let it all hang out on a hot summer’s day, by God, you can! So I, being the open-minded student of the world that I am, sat myself on down on the bench with him, as a sign of my cultural tolerance.

I quickly realized that there probably was no cultural norm in Germany regarding pantslessness in wash centers, though, and that this man was probably, in the most polite and sensitive way I can put it, a flat-out crazy person. And I’ll tell you why…

Right when I sat down, the man started talking to me about the Weltmeisterschaft (the World Cup), pretty typical conversation in Germany right now. So that was all fine. He was talking pretty quickly, though, and I wasn’t quite picking up everything he was saying. But it was all pretty standard small talk stuff. Then, before I knew what happened, this conversation just went right off the rails. I’m not sure what exactly the transition was here, but he said something about how the German soccer players making advertisements was contributing to the “Fussball Faschismus” in Europe. Again, wanting to remain open-minded to various political and cultural views, I politely asked him to explain this interesting opinion.

Big mistake. The next thing I knew, this guy was talking a mile a minute, throwing out all sorts of seemingly random examples trying to prove his Fussball Faschismus theory. Angela Merkel, the Pentagon, BMW, GM, the Holocaust, the height of certain skyscrapers in Dubai, all of these things were connected. Connected, but by what? Well, after 15 years of painstaking internet research, this man had concluded that the number 23 was the key.

Yes, 23, the all-important number! This man had cracked the code, and was now spreading his damning discoveries across Deutschland, one load of laundry at a time. You see, you take Angela Merkel’s birthday, add it to the length of one side of the Pentagon and divide by the height of the tallest building in Dubai, and it equals 23! Or subtract half the number of referees working for FIFA from the distance in light-years to this certain star, and BAM, 23! Or you take the square root of the number of Beemers on the road and divide by the width of Hitler’s stache in centimeters, and – you guessed it! – 23!

Now, I haven’t checked the math on any of these patterns, but I think it’s safe to say that they probably don’t work out. Still, I couldn’t exactly get out of the conversation, first because this guy was talking so fast nonstop, and second because I didn’t want to offend him and wind up shanked on the floor of the Freiburg “Wasch und Fun!” True, without pants this man had considerably fewer hiding spots for a knife than he would have normally had, but I didn’t want to take any chances. So, I sat there and smiled and nodded for about 15 minutes before he finally asked me, “So… was denken Sie??”

Was denke ich? What do I think about all that? For the past quarter of an hour I had either been enlightened with the minute details of the most diabolical conspiracy of all time, something that is so far-reaching and complex that it took 15 years to come to the bottom of, or I had just been half-understanding the complete gibberish of a clinically insane man in a foreign language. So I stuttered out my completely truthful reply,

“Uh… um… ich… er… ich muss ein Bisschen darüber nachdenken…” I have to think about it a little bit.

The man, clearly disappointed that I didn’t fully grasp the world-view-shattering revelations he had imparted on me, got up, pulled his toasty hot jean shorts out of the dryer, slipped them on, and made his way out of the laundromat.

Now, what significant reflection can I pull out of this story? No clue. Ich muss ein Bisschen darüber nachdenken.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:


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Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:


Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:


How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future: