Koch, Kathryn

Koch, Kathryn

Name: Kathryn Koch
E-mail: Kathryn.M.Koch.31@nd.edu
Language: German
Location of Study: Bonn, Germany
Program of Study: Goethe Institut
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies

A brief personal bio:

My name is Kathryn, and I am currently a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. I am a Math major with German and Poverty Studies minors, and I’m also in Air Force ROTC. I have four younger siblings, and my family lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the result of several moves growing up because both of my parents were in the Air Force. Because we have German relatives, I have loved the German language and culture from a young age. I hope that this opportunity will allow me to improve my German and truly experience the culture!

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

I would like to speak German proficiently, and I know the opportunities afforded to me by the SLA Grant will help me to achieve that goal. I also have a German minor, and I know this grant will help me work toward completing it. Furthering my German and becoming more acquainted with the German culture will also help me reach my future career goals. I am currently in Air Force ROTC, and many of the career fields that I am considering require involvement abroad. The Air Force strives to put officers who are familiar with a country’s language and knowledgeable about their culture at foreign Air Force bases, so learning the German language and culture would greatly benefit me.

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

I have always wanted to speak German proficiently as a personal goal. I would like to use my SLA Grant to go to Germany to receive more intensive training and be immersed in a culture that speaks the language I want to learn. One of my hopes for this experience is to gain the confidence to speak German with others. People learn and grow the most when they are thrown into situations where they are uncomfortable. Through the opportunities presented by an SLA grant, I would have to speak German with the other students and be willing to make mistakes. I know that an experience like this would drastically improve my German as well as my confidence in speaking it. Additionally, I will be studying abroad in Heidelberg, Germany for the spring semester next year. This grant will not only give me the opportunity to improve my language skills, but will also allow me to learn about and become familiar with the culture, which will be especially useful to me for my future experiences in Germany.

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

  1. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to speak and understand German at a level equivalent to one semester beyond my current level.
  2. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to navigate German cities confidently—use the public transportation systems, interact with people in shops and restaurants, and understand the typical German way of life.
  3. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to speak to Germans on the many differences in American and German cultures, including the education systems, forms of government, and social problems. 

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Both the Goethe Institut and the city of Bonn offer a wide variety of opportunities that I hope to take advantage of while I am there. For example, the Goethe Institut offers a tandem program, which allows students to come together with German students who are learning English. This program would enable me to practice my German speaking outside of the classroom with a German student who is my age. The Goethe Institute also gives students the chance to become more familiar with the German culture through excursions to local attractions. Through these excursions, I hope to get the chance to see many of the local theaters, operas, and museums (including the Beethovenhaus), as well as nearby cities like Cologne. While there is certainly a lot to be obtained in the classroom, this institution acknowledges that students must also venture outside the classroom to receive a more complete learning experience, and I plan on using those opportunities to maximize my experience.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

My first week in Germany has been such a culture shock! Public transportation terrifies me, and I had to travel from Koeln to Bonn on a train with my two giant suitcases and a backpack the day I arrived. My accommodation is about 10 minutes outside the city center so I have to take the bus every day. The first day of class, I almost got on the wrong bus. The second day I got off at the wrong stop. Day 3 I learned that you have to press the “STOP” button if you want the bus to stop at your station (otherwise it will drive right past… I learned that the hard way). By day 4, I had it mostly figured out! Aside from the difficulties of public transportation, I’ve had to get used to speaking German most of the time. The first few days, whenever my classmates and I spent time together outside of class, our German conversations switched to English pretty quickly. However, every day we are able to speak more German with each other… the improvements are definitely obvious!
Now I’m going to go back a little bit and talk about one of my first experiences in Germany—before I even made it to the Goethe Institut. I flew into Koeln and stayed there for two nights before I was able to move into my room in Bonn. Coincidentally, the Christopher Street Day Parade, which is one of the biggest gay pride parades in Europe, was on one of the days I was there. It was a Sunday, so there was really nothing else going on in the city. I watched the parade, and it was crazy! There were people everywhere wearing the most ridiculous outfits. Everyone was very passionate about the issue. I spoke to a woman who was explaining the general attitude toward gays/lesbians in Germany. She said that big cities like Koeln and Berlin are very accepting and supportive of the gay/lesbian community, but smaller villlages, which are very common in Germany, are usually more conservative. She came from a smaller village and said that there was one lesbian woman who lived in her village, but she moved to Koeln as soon as she finished studying. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is more conservative. The woman I spoke with said she hopes that Germany can be like America and legalize gay marriage soon.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

Week 2 went by so fast! I can’t believe I’m half way done with my time in Germany. This week, the teacher I started with at the Goethe Institut was sick and decided to take the rest of the month off to recover. Her name was Muna, and she was very sweet, but also very quiet. The teacher who has taken over for her, however, is the exact opposite. Her name is Claudia and she has a lot of energy. She is always joking around and chatting with us, and she doesn’t mind if we get off topic as long as we are speaking a lot of German. Some days we don’t finish all the exercises we are supposed to do in our books, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot more German this week just because we are speaking so much!
This weekend I went to visit some German relatives of mine. They only live about 2.5 hours from Bonn, which is just a bus ride away. (Finally becoming a public transportation expert, woohoo!) Apparently their region of Germany celebrates a very old festival called Schuetzenfest (Shooting/Marksmen Festival). The tradition started in medieval times when men needed to protect their villages from raids. They would practice shooting targets and the man who was the most accurate was the Shooting King. These traditions eventually evolved to the Schuetzenfest, which is no longer militarily significant, but culturally significant. The festivities begin with men shooting at a wooden eagle until someone shoots it down, which takes a few hours! This man is named the Shooting King. Then they have military ceremonies that include the village marching band, men bearing torches, and traditional German military uniforms. After, everyone celebrates until the early hours of the morning in a town hall that is made specifically for this annual festival. There are food stands, small fair rides, a dance floor and live band, and of course lots of beer! The next day they have a parade where the Shooting King and his wife and all of their friends (kind of like a wedding party) wear very formal clothes and lead a parade through the village. I think the whole village (only about 2000 people) was there! I was told that the festival is very common in the Sauerland region and everyone loves it. Each village in the region has a Schuetzenfest sometime between May and September. It was very interesting to hear all about their traditions, and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it!

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

I only have three days of class left now, and I can’t believe my time here is almost done! This week I really started noticing improvements in my German. The Goethe Institut has a leisure and free time program, which allows students to come together and experience some of the German culture in Bonn through tours and other activities. This week there was a tour of the Weg der Demokratie (Path to Democracy). Bonn was very small city before 1949, when it was named the capital of West Germany. Then it was built up to become a more “proper” European capital city. Our tour guide gave us a lot of information during our tour, which lasted two hours. But the most exciting thing is that I understood almost everything she said! She spoke very clearly, which certainly doesn’t hold true for all Germans, but I was so proud of myself. It was such a change from my first day in Bonn, when I could barely understand the bus driver who asked for my ticket.
This week for my cultural interaction, I learned how traditional German meals were cooked and prepared. Since my classmates and I go to dinner together fairly often, I had a couple of opportunities to talk to our waitresses. Schnitzel is a very typical German meal, often served with some type of sauce and potatoes on the side. German schnitzel is usually made with pork. (In other countries they use many different kinds of meat.) The waitress said that the meat is thinned, coated in breadcrumbs, and then cooked. I usually got Jaegerschnitzel, which has a mushroom sauce, but there is also a creamy white sauce with onions and a type of tomato sauce that are fairly common as well.
I intentionally asked our waitress at the first restaurant about how schnitzel is made, but I also had an unplanned experience where I learned about German blutwurst. We were eating in the oldest restaurant in Bonn, which opened in the 1390’s! They had a wide variety of German dishes, ranging from the very popular types of schnitzel to the much less popular traditional dishes. Because my classmates and I wanted to try new things, we each randomly chose something from the menu. When I ordered my dish, the waitress looked a little shocked and asked if I was sure that I wanted to eat that. She went on to say that many people don’t like the meal I had ordered—normally only old men and women. Apparently, the entire meal is served cold, and the meat is uncooked bratwurst filled with blood! Thankfully she recommended something else that sounded much more appealing and was, in fact, quite delicious!

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

I have now finished my course at the Goethe Institut, and my time in Germany is over. It’s crazy to think back to my first week and remember how foreign everything was to me. Now it all seems so normal! Riding the bus everyday and using public transportation whenever I want to go somewhere; walking down to the supermarket every few days to get my meals; ordering dinner and drinks at restsaurants in German; living in my apartment with my roommate; going for runs along the Rhein and through the Sieben Gebirge foothills; hanging out in the Hofgarten in the evenings; walking through the city of Bonn everyday. I’m so comfortable doing it all, and speaking German has become so much easier. I used to always worry about what mistakes I might make when I was speaking. Now I know that everyone learning German is going to make mistakes, and that’s how we learn!
This week I asked Germans how they felt about America and Americans. Overall the responses were very positive. Most people love America! They are always wearing American flags on their clothes because that’s what’s cool. They watch American movies that have been translated to German, so they know American actors/actresses. They listen to American music and love American stores and restaurants like Hollister and McDonalds. We even ate in an American restaurant this week, and there were American flags everywhere, bald eagles, pictures of the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline, posters of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, etc. It was so funny because some of the people in my class were asking me if all American restaurants looked like that! Anyway, people were always very excited when they heard my American accent and immediately wanted to start speaking English with me or tell me about their vacations to the US. When I asked one woman if she had any negative feelings toward the US, she said that she loves America but doesn’t really like our politics. She said that people love President Obama, but they think many of the American politicians are hypocritical. She also said she thinks there is too much talk in American politics and not enough action. In general, however, Germans really love America.


Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

My immersion experience has really helped me to improve my German! My course actually mostly covered grammar that I had already learned. Before I went to Germany, I wouldn’t use a lot of the German I had learned because it was still fairly new and didn’t come very naturally to me. After hearing and speaking German every day for four weeks however, many of the grammar structures that had been new to me before studying abroad became much easier. I didn’t have to think about it so much when I used them because I was used to hearing them all the time. Overall I think my German (especially speaking) has gotten much better and I have a much better understanding of the German culture. I think I have met the goals that I set for language learning. Though I don’t know specifically if my German has improved one semester beyond my previous level, it is clear that I have really improved a lot. I can definitely confidently navigate German cities now and understand the typical German way of life. I had some conversations about the differences between German and American culture, but I can still improve my vocabulary so that it is easier to do so.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

My SLA Grant experience was really great! I didn’t know what to expect going into it, but I was quite shocked when I was one of only 3 Americans at the Institut. I wasn’t in class with either of them and didn’t know them very well, so I spent almost all of my time with students from other countries around the world. I can’t say I’ve ever done anything like it–all of these international students were learning the German language and culture while simultaneously learning about each other’s unique cultures. I was constantly branching out and trying new things. Every day I had a new experience. As a result of my time abroad, I can’t wait to go back to Europe to continue exploring all of the places I’ve never been and further my understanding of the German culture and language. I would highly recommend this program to other students, and I would encourage them to go out of their comfort zone in order to take advantage of all of the opportunities they have.

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

This semester, I am continuing to learn German here at Notre Dame. Next semester I will be studying abroad in Heidelberg, Germany, so I will have the opportunity to use what I have already learned, but I will also continue to improve my German speaking and my understanding of the German culture. I will finish my time at Notre Dame with a minor in German. As a member of Air Force ROTC, I will be joining the US Air Force after college. The military offers many possibilities to live abroad, and hopefully I will get the chance to live and work in Germany. Aside from the obvious growth in German, I feel that I have grown in many other ways, as well. I am more independent, confident in myself, and willing to step outside of my comfort zone. These lessons have certainly helped me to grow as a person, and I know they will help me in countless ways in the future.


One thought on “Koch, Kathryn

  1. Kathryn,

    Your posting were a great for me reading. I love to heard all about your adventure in the Germany. I wish goodness around your future time. Maintain it up!