Name: Stephen A. Long
Location of Study: Freiburg, Germany
Program of Study: Goethe Institute
Sponsors: Mark Moyer, Patrick and Lindy Salvi, Cathy Stock
A brief personal bio:
I received my undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Classical Studies from Virginia Tech and my MA in Classics (Greek Language and Literature) from the University of Virginia. Following several years of both teaching high-school and pursuing additional graduate studies, I came to Notre Dame for the Master of Theological Studies. I am now pursuing a PhD in Notre Dame’s Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity program.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
I hope to acquire proficiency in German primarily in order to interact with modern scholarship written in German and to participate in academic conferences conducted in German. My discipline—Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity—requires a thorough knowledge of several ancient languages in order to do research in the primary sources investigated by the field. Equally necessary, however, is a mastery of German that is thorough enough to enable a swift and smooth reading of contemporary international (especially, German) scholarship. Additionally, European scholars continue to host important academic colloquia in my field—so an ability to speak German proficiently enough to participate in the conferences sponsored by German-speaking scholars will considerably widen the scope of my scholarly interactions.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
I have already invested considerable effort toward acquiring the needed reading proficiency in German: as an undergraduate, I took a year of beginning German; and as a doctoral student, I have audited two semesters of intermediate German here at Notre Dame. Although this preparatory work with the German language provides a solid basis for the reading knowledge of the language that is one of my career goals sketched above, my ability to actively produce the spoken language and to communicate with ease lags some distance behind. I hope that this summer in Germany will occasion a large step forward in my speaking ability.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will have greatly improved in my ability to engage in day to day conversation regarding shopping, cooking, and other similar matters related to daily life.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate with native speakers at a basic level on academic and theological topics such as biblical interpretation and literary theory.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to discuss (in German) the basic claims of German classicist and scholar of religious anthropology Walter Burkert.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
The city of Freiburg, where I will be studying, affords numerous opportunities for daily interaction in German in the surrounding university city. I plan to practice German and become better acquainted with German culture through visits to the city’s numerous museums: the Augustiner Museum and its collection of medieval art and 19th century paintings; the Wentzinger House Museum of City History and its displays dedicated to the city’s monasteries, university, and guilds; the Colombischlössle Archeological Museum with regional exhibits dedicated to antiquity and the middle ages; and the Museum of Modern Art. I hope to tour the city’s architectural attractions: the city’s gothic cathedral, the Old and New Town Halls, the City Gates (Schwabentor, Martinstor, and Breisacher Tor), and the campus of Albert-Ludwigs-Universität. I also plan to attend at least one of the organ concerts that are scheduled to be performed in the city cathedral each Tuesday—and I also hope to attend a play performed in the Freiburg Theater. Additionally, the Goethe Institute of Freiburg regularly schedules cultural day-trips to nearby Münstertal, Staufen, St. Peter (as well as to Heidelberg, Strassburg, Basel, and Zürich)—and I will participate in as many of these trips as possible.
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
I arrived in Freiburg on Aug. 2, after flying into Zürich, Switzerland. Getting here was a pleasant adventure: though I made the thoughtless mistake of getting cash out of an ATM in Zürich—only to remember too late that Switzerland isn’t on the Euro—I nevertheless made all my train connections without mishap and enjoyed my first-ever trip by rail. This part of Germany is green and mountainous, and reminds me very much of where I grew up in southwest Virginia. Since I couldn’t check into my hotel until late on Saturday afternoon, I walked around Freiburg (luggage in tow) and finally sat down in a park to enjoy the weather and a book. That initial walk in the city—and the further acquaintance I’ve made with the city during the past week—confirm that Freiburg is a lovely place to be. I’ve walked around the old city quite a bit, viewed the old city gates, and—my favorite site so far—gone up into the tower of the city cathedral for a tour.
My first week at the Goethe Institut has been encouraging. Since I already have some knowledge of the language, our instructor moved me up to a higher level of German than the one in which they initially placed me. I appreciate the desire to use students’ time here well, and I am glad to have moved up—though I had just begun to feel comfortable with my fellow students in that initial class, and now I have to start over with getting to know people… I’ve certainly learned some new grammar and new vocabulary through our classroom instruction, but I do find the linguistic challenge of (say) shopping in the grocery stores and the bakeries, of conversing with our tour guides on a train excursion to nearby Baden-Baden, and of attending Sunday liturgy in a local church, to be worth every bit as much as the time in the classroom.
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
My new class has gone very well, and I’m quite at home both with my fellow students and with the city of Freiburg. I’ve been pleased that there are relatively few Americans around, forcing me not to rely on English. (I must say that the stereotypes that people have of Americans are rather sobering: people seem to expect us all to be arrogant, loud, and overweight.) My class is a good mix of Italians, Japanese, Norwegians and Romanians. I feel at ease visiting the cafes near the Goethe, and speaking is starting to feel much more comfortable. Two cultural excursions have been particularly noteworthy this week. On Thursday we visited the Augustiner Museum, with its impressive display of medieval art and sculptures from the city cathedral. Then on Sunday we visited Wasserfälle Triberg, Germany’s highest waterfall. The town of Triberg has a museum dedicated to the history of the Black Forest region, and I found this more interesting than the waterfall itself—though the waterfall was lovely, of course.
I think my best discovery so far in regard learning aids for German has been…the detective novel. Early in the week our class used a brief history of the German detective novel as the springboard for conversation, and afterwards I asked the teacher if she could recommend a recent German author or two. I’ve picked up a Krimi by Rainer Gross—and I’ve been both surprised and very pleased at how my reading speed is really picking up! I think detective novels might be a fun way to pick up vocabulary in the future.
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
I have discovered that Freiburg has some really excellent used bookstores, I have returned to one in particular several times already… It certainly does make one nervous to attempt purchases in a foreign language—and this gives me great sympathy for internationals living in the US. German merchants have, so far, been very accommodating. I also get almost daily practice with shopping conversation by stopping at a bakery along my morning route to class. I probably won’t be able to quite making this remark: Germany has some excellent(!) bakeries.
Reflective Journal Entry 4:
The big excursion for the week was Saturday’s trip across the border to Colmar, France. The old city there is very beautiful. I especially enjoyed the bakeries and markets with all the fresh produce. (I would say something similar for Freiburg, which has many good bakeries. However, the best bread I found in Freiburg was that sold in the Saturday morning farmer’s market in a park near the Goethe Institut’s guesthouse—that bread was truly outstanding!) In Colmar I visited the Unterlinden Museum. The Unterlinden’s general collection was not very strong—however, the Isenheim Altarpiece was quite impressive, as was the historical information about the Antonine monks of the monastery and their care for the sick.
The Freiburg Goethe Institut arranged several tours to try local food and to talk with its producers. To anyone visiting the Black Forest, I recommend the Schwartzwälder Kirschtorte! We also received a tour of one of Freiburg’s oldest breweries and heard from the Master Brewer (in a somewhat difficult to decode south-German dialect!) the history and the fascinating details of beer production. On another evening, we enjoyed a wine tasting lead (in a somewhat slower and more pedagogically useful German) by a local gentleman whose family was active and prominent in the region’s wine production and export. These excursions have been very useful for practice in listening to a variety of German speakers. Also, I have been listening regularly to German news reports on Deutsche Welle—and this has helped my comprehension enormously.
Reflective Journal Entry 5:
During my three weeks so far in Germany, I’ve come to appreciate what my German instructors this past year at ND termed “Redemittel”—that is, stock phrases that one can use whenever one (for example) expresses one’s opinion, or makes a presentation, and so on. (I.e., they’re all those phrases one uses without thinking such as: “My topic is…”, “First, I will explain…”, “Then I will talk about…”, and “Finally, I will argue that…”, etc.) We have had assignments at the Goethe requiring us to work on various small presentations—and these have really driven home for me the utility of having a good stock of these phrases committed to memory. I’ve resolved that when I return from Germany I am going to work harder on memorizing more of them—they’re just so useful! I’d also recommend this for anyone thinking about going abroad for language study…
Reflective Journal Entry 6:
My time here in Germany is nearly finished, and tomorrow (Aug. 29) I return to the USA in order to dive immediately into a new academic year. I think I’ve made the most progress in my German over the last week or week-and-a-half—i.e. now that I am really over my embarrassment in speaking. I think the Goethe has been very effective at getting me to speak, and I heartily recommend its program. My speech is far from smooth, but it is far (far!) better than it was before I came.
In addition to the classroom practice at conversation, my German has been helped by watching several films over the course of my four weeks here at the Goethe. Films of varying difficulty were selected for us: we’ve watched an adaptation of a work of literature (e.g. an adaptation of Schiller’s “Kabale und Liebe”—without German subtitles and definitely too difficult for me really to understand), a romantic comedy (“Maria, ihm schmeckt’s nicht”—pretty funny!), and several things in between. And in addition to reading my German detective novel, I’ve also listened to two somewhat simplified audio-book detective stories. Finally, in this last week I’ve had opportunity to ask about issues that are on the German people’s minds, and to listen to the responses: worries about whether racism is still an issue in Germany, worries about immigration, worries about nuclear energy and resource extraction (especially, fracking), and worries about the contents of trade agreements with North America. I’ve really enjoyed this time in Freiburg, and it’s been very helpful for me! Again, I’d unreservedly recommend the Goethe Institut in Freiburg.
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
I found the chance to study abroad in Germany tremendously rewarding. Even though I had worked some on German before going over, I still found that I had a great deal of embarrassment and (mental) awkwardness to get over before the pace of language learning really took off. Fortunately, being in Germany at the Goethe provided many opportunities to get over the embarrassment and just enjoy being with native speakers and fellow students of German. I found no great difficulty in adapting to and enjoying German culture. I also think that the goals of my language learning were met to a very large extent: my vocabulary and ability to express myself regarding travel, grocery shopping, cooking, etc. improved immensely. In regard to the more overtly academic goals—communication regarding hermeneutics and “sacrifice”—I did make progress there, but it was an indirect progress. I took an academic article by Walter Burkert with me on my trip, and did read some of it. However, since it was slightly heavy going, I decided to try reading something a little lighter instead (i.e. a mystery novel), and I really think this was a good choice: the increased proficiency with ordinary prose syntax makes me much more confident to approach dense academic prose again.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
I appreciate the orderliness of Germany: the train systems were efficient, the city layout and transportation were effective, and the grocery stores and recycling programs were sensible. I come back with a huge respect for city planning and urban living that make room for foot traffic and bicycles. I also appreciate the German pride in things that are produced locally and skillfully. I would encourage those considering applying for an SLA grant to get even more involved in local life than I had time to do: attend church services more often (I only got to go twice), engage the people at farmer’s markets about their products more (they really care about what they produce)…and don’t forget to buy a cloth grocery bag as soon as you get to Germany.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
I am enrolled for another German course here at ND this Fall. I hope to further perfect my German by continuing onward in the German department. I also hope to read more German novels, watch more German films, and listen to more news reports in German. It’s a great and (actually!) beautiful language. I hope to live there for a year at some point in my career, if possible.