Name: Megan Welton
Location of Study: Göttingen, Germany
Program of Study: Goethe Institute
A brief personal bio:
I am a fourth-year PhD Student at the Medieval Institute, whose research investigates the political structures and actions undertaken by tenth-century queens and empresses throughout modern-day Europe. My research started at Cambridge University as a MPhil student, where I conducted an extensive case study on the first Ottonian empress Adelheid, who ruled over much of modern-day Germany and Italy throughout her fifty-year career (r. 951-999). At Notre Dame under the direction of Dr. T.F.X. Noble, my research has expanded and grown in several directions, both methodologically as I seeks to include the material record into the study of tenth-century political history as well as spatially as I investigate four European realms, namely Anglo-Saxon England, Francia, the kingdoms of northern Italy, and Saxony.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
Virginia Woolf, a devoted student of languages, once observed that any translation is but a mere echo. In the field of medieval studies, any translation of a foreign text is not only an echo, but a belated one. We live in an increasingly connected and global world; nevertheless, published work written in a language other than English, can take years, even decades, to achieve recognition in the United States. Yet for any scholar of medieval history, an intimate knowledge of German scholarship—and the ability to foster academic relationships with German scholars—is essential. As a young medieval scholar, I am eager to acquire the language skills to study German scholarship, exchange written and oral communications with my German colleagues in informal and formal settings, and translate important passages and texts. In order to advance these aims, I applied for an eight-week fellowship in the months of August and September to study at the Goethe Institute in Göttingen.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
I hope that the SLA Grant will equip me with the skills necessary to effectively communicate with my academic counterparts in Germany, a skill most essential for any medievalist but especially one focused on issues of political history. A command of the spoken German word at conferences and in German archives is as essential to the academic study of early medieval history as the written. Indeed, through this grant, I will greatly augment my abilities to communicate with the leading German scholars of the tenth century, to comprehend more fully the colloquia, symposia, and conferences, and to more fully interact with archival librarians in Germany. With this intensive training, I will become fully equipped to understand, absorb, and incorporate German methodologies, tools, and scholarship at large into my dissertation.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
At the end of the summer, I will be able to effectively communicate in writing with leading scholars of my field in German.
At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate with librarians in order to conduct research in German archives.
By the end of the summer, I will develop the confidence in my German language skills to be able to verbally communicate with German colleagues and professors at conferences.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
Reflective Journal Entry 1:
Greetings from Göttingen!
After a month of primary research and conferences in England, it feels quite wonderful to reach Germany. I’ve had a bit of pit in my stomach since I received this wonderful award to the Goethe Institut in Göttingen and in Berlin (in combination with an intensive language award with DAAD). I’ve always been self-conscious about my speaking abilities in foreign languages, and now is my chance to break myself of this bad, bad habit.
The Goethe Institut in Göttingen is absolutely marvelous. The building is a neo-Gothic castle, built in 1905 with wooden staircases, stained glass windows, and gorgeous carvings. The teachers are all lovely and, most importantly, patient with their students. My teacher, Katja, in particular is ‘wunderbar’: our five-hour daily classes speed by! Finally, my fellow students are so incredibly fascinating. Doctors from Sierra Leone, stem-cell researchers from Turkey, breast-cancer researchers from India: these are just a few of the incredible minds that the Goethe Institut in Göttingen are helping to improve their German! I feel so fortunate that I get to learn with (and from) such teachers and students.
Take last night. The scene: the Wochenmarkt center, converted into outdoor cafes; the lighting: candles and very old streetlights; the people: from Pakistan, India, Morocco, and the lone American (me!); the conversation: the varied meanings and trajectories of revolution–mixed in with hilarious jokes about various political magnates as well as ourselves. What a night!
Well, I should return to my studies. My first Prüfung is tomorrow!
Reflective Journal Entry 2:
Göttingen continues to marvel. I’ve finally settled into a routine of waking up rather early (for a graduate student, that is), at around 7.30am, so that I can be awake and alert for morning classes. Our Lehrerin, Katja, is engaging and makes our classes fly by–although we always have a heap of Hausaufgabe to keep us busy.
After a leisurely lunch, I either review my German immediately and sit down to complete the homework, or I take a walk in Göttingen, particularly if the weather is wunderbar. That way, I can sip a delicious capuchin *and* work on my German speaking and understanding. Nothing is so wonderful as catching the conversations of passersby, and realizing that you can understand what they are saying auf Deutsch!
This weekend, a few friends and I are spending the day in Kassel at the Wilhelmshöhe. A magnificently ornate pleasure park for the eighteenth-century elite, it has follys galore, a massive fountain down a huge hill, and a ‘pseudomittelalterlice Schloss’ (neo-Gothic castle), as well as one of the finest collections of Rembrandt and Van Dyk’s works! I can’t wait!
Until next week, Megan
Reflective Journal Entry 3:
Another week, another Pruefung! Not only do our weekly tests encourage us to drill adjective endings and Konjunctiv II into our minds, it also allows our class to truly see how far we’ve progressed in a single week. And now, in my third week, I’m able to safely say that I’m doing better! My test scores have improved, and I’m starting to feel much more at ease when speaking in German (a *huge* feat for me).
My weekend in Kassel was simply spectacular. While the city itself has undergone quite a transformation since WWII, the Wilhelmshoehe Park still gives its modern-day viewer insights into its Baroque past. The Heracles monument is simply breath-taking, as are the water tricks that still run bi-weekly with its original mechanisms. And even though thousands of visitors were at the park, one could still get lost and take so much joy in finding follies named after classical figures everywhere. And – O! – the ‘pseudomittelalterlice Schloss’! It was simply divine to walk from the Heracles, through a windy forest path, and into an open field where a neo-Gothic castle just lies there, waiting for you to explore!
Until next week, Megan
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Reflective Journal Entry 6:
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:
Steadily, steadily, I’m trying to gather up my courage and speak more and more German outside of the classroom. This is not, I repeat not, easy for me. Naturally, I’m quite a shy person when speaking in my ‘Muttersprache’ and so trying to communicate with relative strangers in a ‘Fremdsprache’ is quite unnerving. However, in the afternoons after my daily five hour dose of Deutsche Grammatik, Lesen, und Hoeren, I’ve been traveling down Goettingen’s steep hill and into the center of town. Therein lies a gorgeous cafe, Cron und Lanz, which was founded in the eighteenth century. To say that the Kuechen and the Schokolade are scrumptious is a serious understatement. Such delicious enticements have encouraged me to strike up little conversations with the kind waitresses, upon which I try to build each time I enter into this gorgeous cafe. Additionally, I’ve found the perfect place (and reward) to work on my Hausaufgabe!
Well, it happened: I had my first dream auf Deutsch! Or at least, I’m pretty sure I did, since I realized, as I was falling asleep, that my internal dialogue wasn’t in English, but in German! Weeks and weeks of five-hour-a-day classes has finally infiltrated even my most inner thoughts–which is a wonderful feeling.
I’ve also started to notice that I haven’t been internally translating every word spoken from German-to-English, but instead recognizing the words in a way that is similar to the way I recognize the meaning of English words. My German is becoming less and less dependent on its relation to English and more upon its relation to itself. This process is a bit hard to describe, but it does feel pretty wonderful.
In class, we continue to have our weekly tests and our hours of Hausaufgabe, but we are also delving into more interesting topics, as our language skills and confidence progresses. Today, we discussed Albert Einstein, experimental programs to encourage young students towards scientific exploration, and world events (including a S-Bahn strike here in Berlin). Here’s to another week of Deutschlernen!