Freiburg: Week 2

My second week in Freiburg has been much more serene than the first. Although my teacher, Frau Klein, is fond of giving us tests, and sitting in class from 8:30-1:00 every day can be somewhat exhausting for the brain, I still thoroughly enjoy the challenge of learning to speak, read, and write German. Speaking and understanding spoken German remain the greatest challenges; I know so little vocabulary that I often cannot formulate complete sentences, so I end up having to speak to others in English. Additionally, so many people here know English that they immediately recognize my limited grasp of German and respond to me in English. I have enjoyed a few small victories, however: I am usually able to order food in German, or to ask if a vendor accepts credit cards, or to ask for directions. It is always thrilling for me to speak in German and have the other person understand what I’m saying!

I have also become much more familiar with the city of Freiburg during the past week, as I spend much of my free time wandering the streets and perusing the shops. Freiburg strikes me as a city in which the old and new are everywhere juxtaposed: sleek modern trains run in the midst of old cobbled streets and ancient stone or brick buildings stand side-by-side with contemporary glass-and-steel apartments and sky-scrapers. I have not often encountered this polarity in the US, although Charleston, South Carolina, the city where I was born, comes close. I hope to learn more about the history of city when I visit the Augustinermuseum and the Museum für Stadtgeschichte.

I always find it engaging to observe the people of Freiburg going about their lives. There are two or three spots in the city where groups of Goths congregate with their dogs; sometimes they are asking for money, other times they just seem to be hanging out together, listening to music. They are marked particularly by their creatively cut or shaven hair, which is often teal, pink, or red. Many non-goths also dye their hair (frequently red) and shave parts of their head, or wear facial jewelry. These aesthetic choices do not seem to carry the subversive undertones than they might in the US.

Freiburg is also notable for the number of bicyclists seen on the streets, and the traffic routes are designed to make riding or transporting a bicycle easier: nearly all the staircases have special grooves or ramps which can be used to roll the bicycle up or down, and there are numerous railings to which a bicycle can be bolted or chained. Walking around the city can be somewhat nerve-wracking because of the steady stream of bicycles whizzing by. This is less of a problem in the areas where the streets are cobbled, however, since cobbling is not so easy to ride over. I have also seen people using their bicycles to transport groceries; although this would not be feasible in any US city I have ever visited or lived in, there are at least eight small supermarkets within easy walking distance of my apartment, so I expect that many people buy fewer groceries more frequently, since the stores are so conveniently located.

My first week in Freiburg

My first week in Freiburg has been a roller-coaster of emotions and experiences. The flight from Chicago to Berlin left me completely exhausted, and my first impression of the Berlin airport was bewildering: I could not read the signs and the lay-out was quite different from any US airport that I had been to previously. I had a connecting flight to Stuttgart, but I accidentally exited the terminal and wandered around the airport until I figured out the gate from which my flight was leaving. I then had to go through the security check again before boarding my plane. Upon arriving at Stuttgart, I purchased train tickets to Freiburg (which was surprisingly easy), but had to change trains three times. I found it very difficult to figure out the train system, but luckily several helpful English-speaking Germans pointed me in the right direction. I remember that on the final train to Freiburg, I sat down at an on-train restaurant and heard a father and daughter next to me speaking English. I have never before experienced such comfort at hearing someone speak in my native language! After being so confused and awkwardly asking so many people to talk to me in English, I suddenly felt more at ease hearing them converse. My arrival at Freiburg, however, was the most difficult part of the journey. I had no map of the city, and no access to Google maps on my phone. I asked many people for help finding the Goethe Institute, dragging my gargantuan suitcase over the uneven cobbled streets, but received many different answers, though everyone said, “It is really close”! Hungry, thirsty, sleep-deprived, exhausted, foot-sore, and soaked with perspiration (and consequently smelling terrible), I finally found the Institute. At that point, all I wanted to do was go to my room, take a shower, and lie down. The staff at the Institute, however, expected me to immediately go through the initial orientation. I repeatedly asked to be taken to my room, explaining my situation, but it was some time before I got there: the driver insisted that we wait until some other people were ready to be taken to the hostel. My room was pleasant, but there were many small things that I found awkward: the door knob didn’t turn, the windows opened differently, the trash was sorted differently–nothing particularly difficult, but combined with everything else, the small changes exacerbated the stress of my initial entry, making me feel stupid and intrusive. The first night I felt crushing loneliness and fear, wondering, “Why on earth did I think this was a good idea?,” and “I can’t believe I am stuck here for two months!”

My first day of class at the Institute also brought many changes, but I soon found that my teacher and classmates are wonderful people. I was amazed at the diversity of people studying German alongside me: people from Spain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, and the US. After class on the first day, and in the subsequent afternoons, I spent many hours exploring the city and looking for various things that I needed to set up my room: food, laundry detergent, dish detergent, shampoo, a yoga mat, and the like. Figuring out what to buy was often difficult, since the labels were in German and contained obscure vocabulary (at least for me). I quickly learned that grocery bags cost 0,20 euros each, so everyone brings their own bags; you are also expected to bag your own groceries. Now that I have lived here almost a week, I feel much more comfortable. I love attending class and am encouraged by how much German I have learned, even in a short amount of time. The city of Freiburg is beautiful, and it will probably take me the better part of eight weeks to explore everything! The institute offers many activities, such as a concert that I plan to attend tomorrow. And I am slowly getting used to the way things are done here.



SLA Pre-Departure Prompts

Provide a brief personal bio (50-100 words)

Provide some general background on yourself with references to your personal and academic experiences.

I am a sophomore majoring in History and Political Science. Originally an international student from Shanghai, China, I now live in P-Dub with the beautiful Ugly Bush. Having taken up French only since I came to Notre Dame, I feel extremely fortunate to have this chance to fully immerse in the French culture overseas. Outside of classroom, I enjoy reading and doing Chinese crosswords. Thanks to the two gorgeous lakes at Notre Dame, I am also on my way to become an extremely amateur photographer, with a particular obsession for the sunset scene.

Why your SLA Grant is important to you (100-200 words)

Explain why your SLA Grant is important to you and your future plans. This will likely implicate intellectual, academic and career goals. You are welcome to use your statement of purpose on your SLA Grant proposal to help craft this.

As a history major I intend to concentrate on early modern France, more specifically the period around the French Revolution. As I researched on “revolutionary iconoclasm” for a term paper last semester, I have found that the most important sources are almost exclusively written in French. The ability to comprehend and use first and second sources in French is hence indispensable for my future, more in-depth academic research that would very likely form a senior thesis. A more advanced level of French not only helps my academic pursuit but also would substantially contribute to my long-term career goals. I intend to pursue a legal career after graduation and focus specifically on international law. As one of the most widely spoken languages, French would undoubtedly open to me a huge scope of francophone countries and regions; its usage as official language of various international organizations also makes French a key language for the study of international law.

What you hope to achieve (100-200 words)

Describe what you hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience. In short, what do you intend to get out of the grant?

Above all, I hope this summer study experience will make me more “at ease” using the French language both in vernacular and academic context. I plan to enroll in the six-week intensive summer program at Cours de Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne (CCFS), which entails five-hour courses per day and opportunities for various extracurricular activities. While the idea of wandering around Paris is lovely, I envision my summer there above all a serious learning experience to truly solidify my linguistic skills.

In addition, I have developed a strong interest in French cultural history, particularly of the period preceding the Great Revolution. As the heart of France and various historical events, Paris would be a precious treasure for me to gain a vivid notion of this history. I hope to take advantage of this location and to explore the numerous historical sites and libraries in Paris. Ultimately, I hope this summer immersion will make the French language and culture an integral part of my intellectual sphere, with living impressions and memories.

Your Specific Learning Goals (3-5)

Provide at least three and no more than five specific goals for your learning this summer. Frame your goals via functional statements of ability: “By the end of the summer, I will be able to…”

My specific learning goals are that by the end of this summer learning experience:

1. I will be able to navigate independently and confidently through France, i.e. from grocery stores to administrative offices;

2. I will be able to fluently hold non-trivial conversations with locals and discuss relatively profound topics;

3. I will be able to significantly expand my vocabulary so as to effectively and accurately express myself with proper word choice;

4. I will further refine my grammar and in particular its spontaneous application in everyday conversation so that I could talk with few errors.


How you plan to maximize your experience (100-200 words)

Describe how you intend to “hit the ground running: and take full advantage of your international language study. Please feel free to draw from your ‘Plan of Action’ in your SLA Grant proposal to help craft your response.

Before all, I plan to take full advantage of my language program, Cour de Civilisation Français de la Sorbonne (CCFS), which partners with Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV) to provide great opportunities to learn about the French culture. CCFS also organizes numerous cultural, social and sports outings for its thousands of students every year. I will take full advantage of these outings to work towards fluency of French and to befriend my fellow French students, with whom I will hopefully keep in contact upon return.

To maximize my engagement in authentic interactions, I also plan to stay with a host family throughout the six-week period. I will make my best efforts to blend into the Parisian daily life. Besides an opportunity to practice my conversational skills in everyday setting, a host family will also offer me a chance to acquaint myself with the most vivid aspect of French culture.

Finally, with the perfect location in Paris, I would not waste this incomparable chance to explore the heart of France, to see with my own eyes those legendary historic sites, and to experience the “moveable feast” that shall stay with me for a lifetime.