Vargas, Dolores

Vargas, Dolores

Name: Dolores Vargas
Language: German
Location of Study: Mannheim-Heidelberg, Germany
Program of Study: Goethe Institut
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies

A brief personal bio:

I am a sophomore Psychology major in the College of Arts and Letters, with a supplementary major in German, and I originate from the Bay Area in Northern California. On campus, I work as a student usher for the Debartolo Performing Arts Center and as an intern for the psychology department’s BRAVE (Building Resilience After Violence Exposure) Lab. In addition, I am a part of an awesome club called Super Sibs. I first began studying German at Notre Dame, and this summer will mark my first ever visit to Germany — I can’t wait to see what adventures are out there!

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

The roots of Psychology as an academic discipline are ingrained in German history, and as a result of this close interaction that Germany has with Psychology and research, improving my German and my understanding of the culture with first-hand experience will drastically improve my studies in Psychology, as well as my studies in German. Increased fluency in the language will also help me immensely next year when I am abroad in Heidelberg, as I will hopefully be able to take advanced courses in psychology, which are usually reserved for more advanced students of German.

Moreover, at this point in my undergraduate career, I am strongly considering attending Graduate School in Germany to receive a Master’s, and using this grant to travel to Dresden is an incredible first step towards attaining the fluency necessary to take graduate level courses. An alternate route that I might take after graduation would be to apply to Fulbright for a teaching or research position in Germany.

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

I hope to come out of this experience a far more competent German speaker. I believe I have a comfortable grasp on reading and listening in German, considering I will have completed 4 semesters of the language by the time I go abroad this summer, but I want to vastly improve my ability to engage in fluid conversations, something that I believe only full immersion can provide. With fluency comes a feeling of confidence, and after this month abroad, I hope to feel more comfortable participating in German events on campus, such as Kaffeestunde, German board game night or simply joining my peers at the German Table for lunch in the dining hall.

Furthermore, this month-long program will be great preparation for my semester abroad in Heidelberg next year, as I will learn how to allot money for meals, find my way around an unknown city and balance time between studying and sightseeing. This opportunity will also expand my horizons culturally, something that I believe is completely invaluable.

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 communicate and think in German, producing sentences that include few or no grammar errors, almost as if it were second nature.
  2. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to speak German with a proper accent and pronunciation, nearly indistinguishable from a native speaker.
  3. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will have surpassed my current level of proficiency in German by at least 2 semesters.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Given that one of the most important components of language acquisition is immersion, I plan on avoiding all use of the English language as soon as I arrive in Germany. In addition, the Goethe-Institut Dresden is conveniently located in the Neustadt, a student district that remains lively both day and night — it is essentially the perfect location for me to interact and hang out with people my own age. The cost of the course also includes trips to a myriad of places, ranging from visiting century-old museums in the Altstadt to hiking through the Saxon Switzerland National Park!

Moreover, I plan on getting involved as much as possible outside of the Goethe Institut. Specifically, I want to get involved with a recreational soccer team. I love watching and playing soccer, despite the fact that I’m absolutely terrible at it, and I believe that my German speaking can improve tremendously on the field, considering I would need to speak in a swift, almost instinctive manner to my teammates. On top of this, I would like to volunteer somewhere, preferably where I can interact with children, since I am considering applying for a teaching position through ACE or Fulbright after graduation.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

30 May 2015
Pre-departure Prompt:
For the past few days now, I have had trouble sleeping, due to the anxiety of knowing that I would be leaving for Germany soon. I’m not sure why I was so terrified – I had moved from California to Indiana to study at Notre Dame, and I wasn’t afraid of being on my own then. Perhaps because I had never before visited Europe, I was afraid it was going to be a completely “different world” – that’s how my parents referred to it. My parents were not all too excited that I would be staying in Germany for an entire month, because many Mexican families tend to be very close-knit, so when I first left home to study in a different state, they were shocked, and at first, reluctant to let me go. However, now it won’t just be a different state – it’ll be a different country, on a different continent. As the day grew closer, I began to develop cold feet.

I said goodbye to my family at around 11pm on May 29th, an hour before my 20th birthday, and with two suitcases and a backpack that together probably weighed more than I do, I began my journey. Traveling proceeded as normal: I had two layovers, with enough time during each layover to eat and relax. Unfortunately, I was not able to sleep during the flights or the layovers, because my body likes to be in “high-attention-mode” when I travel, always wary of strangers. However, now that I’m in New Jersey, I feel the anxiety returning. I have four hours before my flight, and as much as I would like to return home, it’s nearly impossible, considering I’ve already made it this far. I have already heard a lot of people who are sitting in the same waiting area as I am speaking German, and I became worried that perhaps my German wouldn’t be good enough to navigate the city. A previous German Professor of mine had also warned me that at first, the Sachsen accent might be really hard for me to understand, but that hopefully after a few days I might be able to understand the people better. While I waited in the airport, worries about other things began to pop into my head: could I make it the entire trip without using the bathroom (considering I had a window seat)? Will the person sitting next to me on the plane be nice enough to let me out into the aisle to stretch my legs every now and again, or will they be easily irritated? Should I buy food in case food isn’t offered on the plane? Should I buy extra food in case I don’t like the food offered at the Berlin airport? If the plane crashes into the ocean, will the rain boots that i’m wearing wear me down as I try to swim for my life? All of these questions and more raced through my head, and before I even realized it, it was time to board.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

*I forgot to mention above that up until now I have not been able to post my blogs, due to the lack of wifi spots available in Dresden, and the unreliable connection offered at the Goethe Institut. However, I decided to write everything down in my notebook and just post everything at the end of my trip. I hope you enjoy reading the posts about my first time in Germany!*

30 May 2015
It’s Sunday night, and today was my first day in Dresden – to say it was a hectic day would be an understatement. I arrived at Berlin Tegel (TXL) at about 7 am (even though my plane wasn’t supposed to arrive until 8am, so there must be some truth to the “germans are always early” stereotype) and was extremely excited to finally be in Germany! After going through customs and picking up my luggage, I was off to find my next method of transportation.

Prior to leaving the US, I did some research and discovered that the Berlinlinien Bus, similar to America’s Coach USA or Megabus, would be the best method for me to get to Dresden, because I was worried I would get lost on the train. However, finding the bus stop proved to be a harder task than i could’ve ever imagined. The signs in the airport were of no help, because they were mainly pictures, and after spending nearly two weeks in Mexico prior to coming to Germany, my german proved to be of no use either- I needed more time to immerse myself in the language in order to remember everything. After asking a bunch of airport employees (in broken german) where the bus stop for the Berlinlinien Bus was, they couldn’t help me, because they said they had never heard of this bus stop. I was getting worried, and I was starting to think that I had been scammed by a fake website, but luckily I was able to find an information center, who I thought had to know something about this bus stop. I asked at the information center if they spoke english, and they started speaking to me in Spanish! I was very surprised, but nevertheless asked them about this mysterious bus stop, and in the fastest Spanish I had ever heard in my life, he told me how to get to the bus stop, but of course I was tired from having traveled 12+ hours in the last 20 hours or so, and I heard absolutely nothing that he told me. Embarrassed, I thanked the man and proceeded to try to find the bus stop on my own once again. I asked another airport worker if she could help me, who replied to me in Spanish, and she said that most of the buses stop on the ground floor. Finally I had some vague idea of where to go! So i head into the elevator, but was really confused, because it said that I was on the 1st floor. I thought that perhaps she meant first floor, as in ground floor, so I proceeded to the basement, floor 0 (it wasn’t until about 2 days later that I remembered that in Germany, the first floor is actually floor 0, or Erdgeschoss). But even after taking the elevator that was inside the airport to the ground floor, all that was down there were taxis and bathrooms. Confused, I wandered outside of the airport, wanting to get some fresh air to clear my mind. After walking for some time, I plopped my huge suitcase down on the side of the street and myself on top of it, feeling sad, confused and most of all, tired. Suddenly, a random man, who most people would probably find intimidating (big guy, long scraggy hair, piercings all over his face, tattoos, wearing all black clothing and smoking) asks me if I’m going to Dresden. Astounded by his otherworldly ability to read minds, I answered “Ja,” and he told me that I was standing in front of the Berlinlinien Bus that’s going to dresden, and that it was going to leave soon. I thanked him, made my way onto the bus, and before I knew it, I had arrived in Dresden.

Upon arriving, the bus dropped me off at the Dresden Hauptbahnhof at around noon, and naturally, I had no idea where I was. Luckily, there was one cab waiting on the other side of the street, so I made my way over and asked if he could take me to the Best Western Hotel. We loaded my suitcases in the trunk and off we went. Frank was a really nice guy, who gave me a small tour of the Altstadt and Neustadt as he was driving, and he also gave me the helpful reminder that nearly all shops close on Sunday, with the exception of a few Cafes.

I finally arrived at the hotel, and after taking a much needed shower, I fell asleep. The next thing I know, it’s 9pm. I had slept nearly nine hours (I had been traveling since Friday 11pm Pacific time, and arrived at 7am Central European Time Zone on Sunday), and only woke up because I was really hungry. After having rested, my mind was functioning once again, so I decided to retrace the path that the cab driver took to take me to the the hotel, and after about 20 minutes, I arrived at a kebab house, the only thing that appeared to be open for the next few blocks. A little uneasy, since middle eastern food isn’t exactly my favorite, I walked in determined to find something to fill this empty hole in my belly. It was almost as if my guardian angel was watching over me, because on the menu they had my absolute favorite food – pizza! I ordered an entire pizza for myself, and walked back home in the darkness. The pizza was absolutely delicious, and after calling my parents to tell them that I was safe and sound, I fell asleep once again.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

02 June 2015
Today consisted of a tour of the Altstadt, where I was able to learn more about the history of the city of Dresden, especially during WWII. We visited a lot of different buildings, but the one that intrigued me the most was the Frauenkirche, a church that was destroyed during WWII by a bombing attack. It was cool to learn that the Frauenkirche was rebuilt with remnants of the previously destroyed Frauenkirche – it seems to me like a great way to preserve the memory of the previously destroyed church.

Later today, I visited a German movie theatre to watch the movie San Andreas. As a native Californian, I naturally felt an obligation to go and watch this movie. I brought my roommate along, who is also taking classes at the Goethe Institut, but she is in a slightly lower level than I am, so we were both worried that we weren’t going to get our money’s worth, since we probably weren’t going to understand most of it. However, we were both pleasantly surprised that we were able to understand roughly about 2/3 of the movie. I’m not quite sure if that speaks well about the dialogue used in the movie, but i’m definitely looking forward to coming back to watch something else!

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

07 June 2015
This weekend, I went on a day-trip with a group of friends from the Goethe Institut to Weimar, a city about 2 hours from Dresden, so that we could visit the Buchenwald concentration camp. We met up very early to take the train from Dresden to Weimar, and I was pretty excited because it was my first time riding the German train, but I was also really worried, because I had never visited a concentration camp before, and wasn’t sure what to expect. After a long train ride, we grabbed something to eat at a bakery in the train station, and headed off. As soon as we arrived, I was mesmerized by the beautiful forestland that surrounded the camp, but I also felt chills going down my spine as the wind whistled through the forest, creating an ominous “oo000oo0o0oooh” sound.

The camp was a lot more crowded than I was expecting it to be and it was very unsettling to see many tourists disrespecting the property, either by taking cheerful “selfies” or by speaking loudly in places that deserved respect, such as the crematorium. However, I learned so much about the history of the camps from the different art galleries that were there, and this trip made me want to visit the rest of the camps, to learn more about them. It was very cool to see that, despite how oppressed these people were, they still managed to create beautiful works of art, that are thankfully still well preserved. It was also awesome to see the secret illegal photographs that were taken of the camps, because without these photographs, the true atrocities of the camp’s conditions might not have been revealed otherwise. I learned that many (or perhaps all, I can’t really remember) German students are required to visit these camps, as part of a school requirement, so that they don’t forget this tragic piece of their country’s history, and I think this policy is extremely important to have, because walking on the same soil and into the same buildings as the camp’s prisoners before us was truly unforgettable. Visiting this place was a powerful experience – you learn something about yourself and about the history of this tragic time that simply cannot be taught in a classroom.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

13 June 2015
This weekend I visited the Saxon-Switzerland National Park, but it wasn’t the experience I had hoped for it to be. At first, thanks to a detour in the Tram schedules, my friend and I almost missed the train that was departing to the Park, ultimately missing our chance to grab some breakfast at the train station. As soon as we arrived at the Park, my allergies started acting up, but I tried my best to ignore them, as I had been doing so far during my time here. As we began our ascent up the mountain, I realized just how unprepared I was for this hike: I was wearing shorts, and the tall grass scratched against my legs, creating unsightly and unbearingly itchy rashes; because my friend and I were late arriving to the train station, we weren’t able to eat something for breakfast; we hadn’t packed any food for the road; my friend had forgotten to use the restroom before we left the train station, so she was forced to use the restroom in the woods; I was not wearing the appropriate shoes, so my toes and soles were in a lot of pain; and lastly, my allergies had reached a new extreme. I could barely keep my eyes open, because whenever I did they itched like crazy; my throat was so itchy and dry, it almost hurt to breathe; and I could not stop sneezing the entire way up and down the mountain (it was about a 2 hour hike). I was ecstatic when the trip was finally over, and I treated myself to some vanilla ice cream to numb the pain in my throat. Despite the horrible experience with my allergies, the Saxon-Switzerland National Park is a beautiful Park, and I only hope I can go back again, but better prepared.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

21 June 2015
This weekend was the BRN Festival in Dresden, which stands for Bunte Republik Neustadt. The history behind this festival is quite interesting: After Germany’s reunification in 1990, in parts of the Dresden Neustadt, the citizens formed a micronation, complete with their own currency, and with Mickey Mouse as their nation’s symbol. This micronation lasted only from 1990-1993, but nowadays every year in June a 3-day cultural festival is celebrated there under the same name. During this festival, certain streets are closed off, vendors sell food and drinks on the street, and DJs and live bands play music throughout the city. It was awesome attending this festival: I saw rock and metal bands play; I ate Langos (an italian snack that consists of… i’m actually not quite sure what it consists of), crepes, Döner (also not quite sure what it is made of) and various classic german drinks; I explored areas of the city that I hadn’t explored before; and most importantly, I made new friends. I found it fascinating above all seeing nearly all of the people of Dresden, young and old alike, as well as a lot of tourists, crammed into this small neighborhood in the Neustadt, coming together to celebrate a piece of the city’s history.

Reflective Journal Entry 7:

TASK 3: Identify a local and culturally important holiday about which you would like to learn more. Next, locate a tourism office/museum/historical center and ask someone who works there about the historical and cultural significance of the holiday and its origins. After you have spoken to someone in an official capacity, ask the same question(s) to a regular citizen. Were the two accounts the same/similar? Consider the content of the responses and their cultural significance — particularly any differences between the official and lay versions.

The BRN (Bunte Republik Neustadt) Festival in Dresden
I found that both accounts were very much similar, except the citizen who I interviewed was a student, who saw the event less as a cultural “holiday,” but rather more as a party.

Tourism Office:
The history behind this festival is quite interesting: After Germany’s reunification in 1990, in parts of the Dresden Neustadt, the citizens formed a micronation, complete with their own currency. This micronation lasted only from 1990-1993, but now every year in June a 3-day cultural festival is celebrated under the same name. During this festival, certain streets are closed off, vendors sell food and drinks on the street, and DJs and live bands play music throughout the city. The festival is supposed to be a way to honor this piece of our city’s history, but over time it has evolved into a tourist attraction, as well as a reason for many adolescents to get drunk.

Regular Citizen:
After East and West Germany came together, some people weren’t totally cool with the idea, because they originally didn’t want to be a part of East Germany, so they definitely didn’t want to be a part of the reunification. Instead, some people decided to create a nation within the nation of Germany, and they decided to call it BRN. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but it wasn’t long. Now, we celebrate it by having parties, raves, and drinking – a lot.

Reflective Journal Entry 8:

Hello! On the hectic return home, it seems as though I forgot to post these last reflections!

TASK 6: Interview three people of different ages and genders with whom you are familiar/friendly about their attitudes towards the United States. What is their attitude towards the US in general? Are there specific issues (e.g. foreign policy, government structure, culture, etc) that they especially like/dislike? What are their rationales for these attitudes and opinions? Do not inject your own opinion into the interview and remain objective and respectful even if you do not agree with their statements. Consider how local cultural values influenced the responses of your interviewees as well as your own (internal) reactions to their commentaries.

I interviewed three native Germans about their attitudes towards the US, two of whom were males, aged 26 and 27, respectively, and one woman aged 53. For the most part, their answers were very much alike. One of the male students, R, had not been to the US, but from what he has seen and read on the news, he believes that the US has a very corrupt political system, and the country’s population is too uneducated to even realize it. In addition, he believes that the education system is so bad in the US, because that’s the government’s way of keeping people under control. S, the 27 year old student, has been to the US on a year abroad for an internship. He finds it absolutely ridiculous how much students spend on tuition each year at universities, and he cannot believe that people buy and drive such big, gas-guzzling cars, such as Hummers. The 63 year old woman finds it interesting that the US claims to be a land free for all, but only when it comes to certain types of people. She elaborated further, and said that certain races and people with more money have more opportunities and are not as ostracized as others. She also finds it horrifying that the US doesn’t have a recycling program quite like that of Germany.

Because of Germany’s higher education system, which is almost essentially cost-free, I can understand why R and S see the US education as so “messed up” – only certain people who can afford to pay for school can attend it, and that unfortunately leaves out a large portion of the population. The 63 year old woman, A, has experienced what Germany was like after the second world war, and can therefore see striking similarities in how “foreigners” or “non-natives” are treated now in America to how they were treated in Germany post World War II.

Reflective Journal Entry 9:

TASK 5: Identify a food/dish/cuisine that is unique to your location of study. Go to a local restaurant and order the food. Engage the waiter/restaurateur in discussion of its ingredients, preparation, and presentation. Ask about the historical or cultural significance of the food. Why is it so popular locally? What distinguishes a good preparation from a bad preparation. Note the culturally-bound attention to food and its role in nutrition, social interaction, and/or national identity.

Curry fries seem to be a very popular, cheap dish here in Dresden. The story I was told at a small fast food shop was that this dish originated during the second world war, when food rations were scarce. People were given a booklet of “food stamps”, which allowed them to receive a few food items each month. One woman, who was given curry spice and potatoes (among other things), wasn’t quite sure how to utilize these items to their fullest potential. She decided to combine them, unsure of the outcome, but she figured the taste wouldn’t matter – food was food, and they took what they could get. This dish, which is essentially just modern day french fries and curry sauce, exploded in popularity, due to its tangy and savory twist on otherwise bland french fries. The cook at this shop told me that most restaurants won’t tell you how this dish is made, because everyone’s twist on this somewhat basic dish are what keep customers coming back. I’m not sure how much truth there is to this story, but it seems reasonable enough!

Reflective Journal Entry 10:

TASK 1: Identify 2-3 colloquial/slang words in your target language. Next find 1) a man and a woman who are 18-25 years old and 2) a man and a woman who are 40-50 years old. Ask each age and gender group what they think about these slang terms. Do they understand them? Are they appropriate to use? In what contexts? Why? Note the differences and the potential cultural implications of their responses.

“Ne” is a shortened version of the word “Nein”, which means “No” in German. “Naja” is a word that seems to have a lot of meanings: it can mean “oh well”, “yes+no”, “yes, but..”, “well yeah”, or simply a cooler sounding way of saying “Ja”, which means “Yes.” All of my interviewees understand these words and essentially agreed that they’re appropriate to use in everyday language. These slang words are not bad, they are just simply regional slang. I was informed by the 20 year-old man that I interviewed, that instead of “Naja”, people in areas of southern Germany say “Jawohl”, and it means pretty much the same thing. These words are something that you wouldn’t necessarily learn in a textbook, but are nonetheless a part of the language.

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: