Third Week in Tours

I just began my fourth week (time is flying by!), after a week focused mostly on oral comprehension skills. It might be that I have acclimated to the learning environment and know how to make the most of my studies, but I noticed a greater rate of improvement during my third week than in the first two. I have advanced a level in the past three weeks, which is exciting!

To anyone who is interested in doing a language immersion program, I would definitely recommend studying on your own outside of class. Classes can move slowly or quickly, depending on what concepts you and other students know. Because everyone has had a different course of study, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. I find that my grasp on grammar is beyond the level of my course, but my speaking and listening comprehension skills are appropriately challenged. So to try and close the gap, I often practice reading syllable-by-syllable and making vocabulary flashcards.

On the weekends, I do some local travel and often get the opportunity to use my French on the road. A lot of people that I have started conversations have been really open to letting me speak French with them. Through these conversations, I have learned a lot about French culture. In my last post, I mentioned that I got the opportunity to speak with many local citizens about the political climate in France, through a class activity. I found it to be one of the most memorable things that I have done so far, and I really enjoy hearing the responses people give me. Thus, I have chosen to pursue the topic a little further and often try to start conversations about the protests and political situation in France.

The Nuit Debout movement is gathering momentum and while there is a definite tension (people are worried about travel, etc.) and I have seen protesters gathered outside the Hotel de Ville at night since I’ve gotten here, I think it is quite fascinating that many people are passionate about their opinions, even if they aren’t directly joining the protests. I met a group of young people who were traveling to Paris for a concert and decided to talk to them about what sort of social tensions currently exist in France. They had many interesting things to share about the protests and issues like racism in France, which seems very similar to the kinds of tensions that exist in the US. We spoke about US situations as well, like Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson. Having visited Ferguson and participated in the Social Concerns “Realities of Race” seminar, I am personally interested in race relations in the United States, but this is my first time really thinking about it in the context of a different culture and country. The people that engaged me in this conversation spoke a lot about geographic racism and segregation, which I found very interesting. What I gleaned from the conversation is that many immigrants are forced to move to outer parts of cities, often due to socioeconomic reasons that force the poor to move into housing projects. As in many cities in the US, these areas used to be occupied by the middle class, people who eventually deserted them because of the increasing poverty and immigration, moving to nicer suburban areas. In addition, these areas are often isolated by fewer transportation lines and thus higher unemployment rates. Based on what I discovered upon visiting St. Louis for my SCS, these situations are very similar. I wish I had more advanced French knowledge in order to be able to pursue the topic further with the lovely people that I met, and I definitely hope to do some more comprehensive reading on this topic. If you’re also interested, here is an interesting article I found that outlines the issues of race in Parisian suburbs better than I can articulate it:

As for more about my classes, I have switched from the intensive course (22.5 hours/week) to the standard course (15 hours/week) for this week. I originally signed up for it this way, and I hope to use my extra time to further explore the city and use my French in a daily context, which I think will be more beneficial for me than sitting in extra classes. Now that I know good methods for practicing phonetics, I hope to do more on my own. As I previously said, sometimes the pace of the class can hold you back, and self-motivation is key to more efficient improvement.

I have met other wonderful students, with whom I hope to attend a local music festival, picnic, and visit surrounding areas of Tours. Food is a huge part of the culture here, and I really enjoy getting lunch with my friends and dinnertime with the other students in my host family. I have done some grocery shopping for when I have to make my own lunches, and my staples definitely include the stereotypical baguette and cheese (favorite so far is camembert, even though the local speciality is chèvre). However, for dinner, my host makes a wonderful variety of delicious foods, always beginning with a salad and ending with a cheese plate. I have tried a variety of delicious crepes, quiches, and desserts, as well. Other cultural aspects that I have really enjoyed discovering include French music. I took a culture class two weeks ago that explained the different genres of French music and the popular artists of each genre. It was really engaging and now I try to mix my playlists of songs in English with those in French.

I can’t believe that three weeks have already flown by. I have felt an incredible amount of personal growth, which is really comforting after just completing my first year at Notre Dame. I am meeting so many cool people and love the challenge of being alone in a foreign country, surrounded by so many welcoming new friends is really special. I hope I can make the most of the next 2 and a half weeks! I don’t think I’ll want to leave.

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Photos: visit to Paris, sitting by La Loire (a river marking the Northern part of the city center in Tours), a view in the classroom.

Tours Week 1

And so concludes the most memorable week of my life! Each day this week I tried at least one new food, met a person from a different country and learned new French vocabulary. I found myself lost multiple times and was accidentally tear-gassed by the French police. I attended mass in a cathedral built in the 300s and a wine festival featuring more wines than I thought was possible. As a result, it feels much longer than one week ago that I landed in Paris after an 8-hour flight from Washington, D.C and boarded the train for Tours.

It seems to silly to me now how nervous I was as the train pulled up to the Tours train station, unsure of what the next six weeks would hold. While the first few days were definitely the hardest, every day has been an improvement and I already am noticing a vast improvement in my ability to understand and hold conversations in French. The second I saw my host parents, holding a home-made sign with my name, waving and smiling at me, I knew I had nothing to be worried about. They are a wonderful and kind couple that has hosted students for over twenty-five years!

That being said, my first couple days in Tours were definitely the hardest. While my host mom accompanied to school the first day on the tram, I decided for some reason to try the bus the next day. I assumed the bus and the tram would let off at the same location near my school, which I soon realized was not the case as I looked out the window and saw the Loire river below me as the bus left downtown Tours for the suburbs. As a result, I was 45 minutes late to the first official day of school. The bus mishap was only the first of many times I got lost. In addition I struggled conversing in French outside the comfort zone of my school and host family. A puzzled look coupled with the phrase “je ne vous comprends pas” was a common response I received the first couple days.

While initially I was frustrated by continually being lost and misunderstood, it was those processes that were actually the most rewarding. In being lost I stumbled across some of Tours’ best shops and in being misunderstood I gained a better understanding of French language. For example here is a word I will never forget: manifestation (protest).

During an extra long répose (break) last week I decided to return home in between classes on the tram, and on my return trip, the tram abruptly stopped in the center of town. When I asked the driver why the tram stopped, he pointed forward and said “manifestation” and then opened the tram doors and said “sortir.” Ignoring the first word because I did not know its meaning, I followed his directors to “sortir” (exit) the tram and began to walk to school, which happened to be in the same direction he pointed when he said manifestation. Suddenly I heard chanting in French as I was encircled by swarms of people holding signs and looking very angry all around me. Then I saw rows of armed guards slowly marching towards us and before I was able to get myself away from the protestors a huge cloud of white smoke engulfed us. Suddenly my eyes began to sting and everyone around me grabbed parts of their clothes to cover their faces. I soon realized the police were dispersing tear gas to break up the “manifestation.” I covered my face with my sweater and ran away from the gas as fast as I could. I was late for school but I when I explained to my teacher why, he seemed very happy I had this “first hand experience of the French revolutionary spirit!” He explained to me the definition of manifestation and how the French view the right of protest an integral part of their history. The manifestation I witnessed however was unusual in that its part of a larger movement against the new labor law implemented by the French government. Protests are occurring across the entire country of France in fact and many workers are on strike.

In addition I am learning the importance of phonetics to the French language. Often French words differ by the slightest phonetic change in a syllable. Outside of the classroom, I am not understood if I don’t pronounce the phonetics exactly. This happened when I tried to buy a watermelon (pastèque) but the seller thought I was calling his fruit plastic (plastique), and when someone asked me how my first cours (course) of school was and I began to explain the route I jog each morning because I thought they asked about running (courir) – (these were some of those puzzled looks and “je ne vous comprends pas” instances).

I lucked out though because my first week at school was a special week focused on oral skills and so by the end of the week already noticed a vast improvement in my ability to hold to a conversation!

I am also expanding my food palate. As my family and friends know well, I have never been an adventurous eater. My usual diet rarely detours from vegetables, chicken and fish. Yet in the past week, meats I have never had before in my life appeared on my plate each night. Much to my surprise, and I think more to the surprise of my family and friends, I found myself liking almost every meal. Of course it doesn’t hurt that my host mom comes from three generations of professional chefs and worked in a restaurant for twenty years herself!

One of the aspects I love most about my time in Tours so far has been my interaction with other cultures in my home and at school. At school the first week I was one of two Americans in my class. One activity in particular I enjoyed was finding advertisements from our respective countries and explaining them to the class. I chose to cover Superbowl advertisements, and people were shocked to learn that commercials could be so expensive and so many celebrates appeared in them.

While I was alone the first three nights in my house, I now have three housemates who are also students at L’Institut de Touraine. On my floor is a very sweet woman from Japan studying the French language and wine to improve her skills as a wine consultant in Japan. One the floor above me lives a boy my age from Ireland and a girl from the United States. We eat dinner together every night at 8 pm and talk only in French – the common language amongst us. Often the conversation turns into a comparison of cultures that goes well over one hour. The inevitable mix of culture, gastronomy and socializing of the meal has made dinner one of my favorite parts of Tours.

I love exploring Tours and all of its treasures, meeting new people and learning French. I cannot wait to begin my month long course on Monday and start excursions to other parts of France this week. À bientôt!

First taste of Buenos Aires

I like to say that my journey started pretty well. Do you know how flight attendants know what language to speak just by looking at you? Well, when I got on the plane last Wednesday, they talked to me in Spanish and I was pumped! That feeling didn’t last long. I was sitting next to an Argentine woman and I have to say I was flattered when she started talking to me in Spanish (in her defense, I did say ‘Hola’ first). However, it was way too fast, and I had to tell her to slow down, but we eventually managed to understand each other.

I got to Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires Thursday morning, managed to exchange my dollars to Argentine pesos (in Spanish), met with my program coordinator and one of my roommates, Jaimee. We then headed to meet our host mom, Liz, whose birthday it was on that day. Liz is super nice and speaks minimal English. She also apparently knows some local celebrities. We might meet them (or have already) but I’m afraid I wouldn’t recognise any. That night, I had my first ’empanada’ (Argentine style cause they’re different in every country) and instantly knew I’d like the food here. They’re big on meat and carbs.

The following day, we met Alexa, our other roommate and together with Jaimee, we visited some historic sites during the weekend. A lot of people think that women have a bad sense of direction (or none at all). They might be right. We had some trouble navigating the city without Google Maps (none of us had a working phone with data yet), almost missed our bus stop (twice), but feel more confident using public transport now (yay!). Nonetheless, it was pretty cool being to places that were previously discussed in my classes at Notre Dame, like Plaza de MayoCasa Rosada (their equivalent of The White House), Cementerio de la Recoleta (where Evita‘s tomb is),…

I had never been this excited to be in a cemetery

I had never been this excited to be in a cemetery

Language-wise, it is slowly becoming easier to understand the accent here. Argentina is the only country that uses ‘vos’ instead of ‘tú’. Also, they pronounce the ‘ll’ or ‘y’ and ‘z’ sounds as ‘sh’, which really throws me off at times since I’m not used to it. Asking people to repeat what they said, and using signs have become an integral part of everyday conversation.

Tomorrow is our first day of class and I’m really looking forward to what is to come, especially more Spanish!

¡Hasta luego!

Tours week 2

My second week at the Institut de Touraine was great. Like I mentioned, this week is technically a vacation because there’s a national standardized test going on, but there were smaller oral courses for students who wanted to keep taking classes this week. My class this week was bigger and full of people who were more willing to make an effort than everyone in my class last week, so I feel like I learned a lot more. The class was almost like a conversation—we would have a new topic every few days with worksheets and activities to do, but most of the time we got very off track and just started discussing and debating various things.

This, of course, is exactly what I need to improve my French, since if I couldn’t articulate something I was actually unable to cheat and switch to English—my teacher couldn’t speak it at all. I’d simply have to find a better way to express myself. I had to do this with all kinds of topics, from describing popular stereotypes of various nationalities to defending my opinion on a controversial issue. Having to do this day after day made me sort of gradually forget I was doing it in a foreign language and just focus on the topic itself, which greatly helped. I think my proudest moment was when two people in my class were trying to argue against a certain article but confusing the rest of us, until I pointed out that they were arguing for the same point as the writer but taking her metaphor too literally.

We also had to do these phonetic labs where we’d usually be given an absolutely Herculean task like imitating a recording’s voice inflections down to the last syllable, fail at it for obvious reasons, then listen to the playback of our own voices and realize that despite our mistakes we sounded like native French-speakers with a completely French accent. It was really frustrating but interesting in a way.

This week I also explored Tours a little more. I visited the Musée des Beaux Arts; I’m not a huge fan of art museums, but I really loved all the art there inspired by Greek mythology. There was a ton of it—paintings and statues of so many different stories. I also visited the public library a few times and started reading Les Misérables in French. And last night I went to a concert where a bunch of different choirs from around Europe sang to compete for our votes. It was really beautiful, and I got to hear some other languages too. It’s been a pretty good week, and I’m excited to see what next week has in store.

Radolfzell: Week Two

This week, I focused on trying to speak more in class and with other local people. While I did speak more, I was often frustrated by my lack of vocabulary. I know plenty of words, but I never seem to have the right one when in conversation. Outside of class, people still recognize that I do not speak German well, even if I only said a simple sentence or question. I think this is due to my hesitation and the speed at which I speak. Because I want to be clear and pronounce words correctly, I often speak very slowly, even for shorter, simpler sentences. I am working on the rhythm of my speaking, because I feel it will help me communicate more clearly with other people and get a better feel for the German language. I have also been getting more comfortable conversing with the local people. When they ask me questions in stores or on the streets, we usually end up having a conversation about Germany and how I like it here. Most people can guess that I came to Radolfzell to study at the CDC, so they usually are nice about mistakes in my speaking and will continue speaking in German with me.

I enjoy going to class at the Carl Duisberg Center. We learn a lot of grammar concepts every day, which is very interesting to me, especially when I compare German grammar and English grammar. We also cover a wide variety of topics and the diversity of people in my class contributes to making class interesting. I get to hear about experiences from people around the world. It is interesting to see how their perspectives and opinions are different from and similar to mine, especially in regards to the upcoming US election. Another nice thing about going to class each day is the consistency. It helps me maintain a schedule, which helps me feel more comfortable despite being in an entirely different country.

There was another public holiday this week; it was Corpus Christi on Thursday, so we had no class. Although it was nice to receive a break, it was very strange not being able to do anything. Everything, except for some restaurants, close down on public holidays, so there was not much to do other than go to church and eat. There are only two public holidays in the German year that are not religious and Corpus Christi is a solely Catholic holiday, so not all areas of Germany celebrate it.

Overall, it really is the little things that make a difference here in Germany. Just being able to carry a small conversation with a local person can make me incredibly happy, while butchering the pronunciation of a word feels incredibly disheartening. I am trying my best to find a happy medium. I realize I am still learning and should feel proud of improvement and not dwell too much on mistakes. I am definitely making progress in learning German and I could not be happier that I am slowly improving each week. I am already much better at understanding what is said to me, and I plan on trying to read some novels in German.

Second Week in Tours

My second week in Tours was great, albeit cut short by a long weekend. Classes continued as they had before, mostly lecture style with constant chances for students to participate. I find these lectures to be effective, but more slow moving than my French courses at ND were. I am getting a good review in grammar and am learning a lot of more specific metaphorical phrases; I have definitely seen a vast improvement in my writing skills, surprisingly. My speaking skills have slightly improved (I think I am far more fluent in asking questions in French during class), but my listening comprehension still needs work.

I am surrounded by a lot of really motivated students, which is a great experience. I am trying to do activities outside of class to enrich my learning, such as practicing my phonetics by reading newspaper articles aloud and making copious amounts of flashcards. Now that I have some important grammar skills in place, vocabulary is my main focus, as with any language.

This past week has been my favorite week so far. Because a session just ended and many students are coming/going, this week is a special oral comprehension-focused week. I wish it were like this every week because we have been doing more speaking and listening exercises. A really interesting activity involved creating a questionnaire/survey and going out into Tours to interview willing people on the street. I wanted a challenge, so my partner and I decided to focus on the current French political scene. It was definitely a challenge understanding many of the complex responses, but we asked a variety of interesting questions from “What do you think about La Nuit Debout and other protests?” to “What do you think of the current presidential election in the US?” We interviewed a variety of people from different demographics, but got many similar responses. Just for some background, La Nuit Debout is a social movement/mass protest against new labor laws in France, and has been going on since March 2016. Most people responded that the protests reflect poorly on the government and that people have a right to be upset towards the new laws, a situation which only worsens with the high unemployment rates and poor economic situation. Many responses expressed that adolescents would be more involved in social activism, since they mainly have the same political sentiments. This activity was a really good experience! Many people refused to talk to us, but the ones who gave answers did a really detailed job.

I hope my last three weeks in Tours will be three weeks of rapid improvement. Now that I have settled well into life here, I am trying to add small things to my daily regime. I hope to start reading more newspaper articles and go to the cinema a few times. A few friends and I hope to bike to visit some chateaus in the Loire Valley. It is absolutely beautiful and inspiring to be here. Unlike Paris (I visited this past weekend), people let me attempt speaking French with them when I’m in bakeries, restaurants, and shops. In Paris, upon hearing my accent, many people would immediately revert to English. I’m really in love with Tours’ culture and place, and hope the remainder of my time will be well spent. There have been a few times when I have let French words slip when calling home!

Tours week 1

I arrived in Paris on Sunday morning and somehow managed to get to the Tours train station without missing either of the trains, considering how jet-lagged I was. I had some minor technology disasters in that my phone company neglected to tell me my cell wouldn’t work at all abroad, so I’m extremely glad that the language barrier turned out not to be too much of a problem in the first few hours. I knew there were plenty of English-speakers at the airport, but I managed to find my way around by asking for directions only in French! Personal goal fulfilled. All those exercises where we had to pretend to order food from each other in French class finally paid off. And so did those horrible, ridiculously fast listening exercises, since that was pretty much how the announcements sounded on the train.

I’m staying with a host family. My host mom’s name is France (which one could choose to view in a metaphorical way) and she takes in a lot of travelers trying to improve their French. There’s a Brazilian woman who barely even speaks a word of French, a guy I haven’t really interacted with much yet (besides some awkward clashes over using the bathroom first in the morning), and my host mom’s kids. I interact the most with my host mom, carrying on most of the conversation when she and the Brazilian woman and I have dinner together. She lent me a bike so I can get around Tours a little faster, so I feel like a real French person when I ride it to school.

I’m liking the Institut de Touraine so far, although I think they may have put me in a class that’s a little too easy. The language experience I want to gain is in articulating myself more clearly in arguments, discussions, etc., and so far I’ve barely gotten a chance to do that between reviews of grammar I already know. I’m planning on requesting to move up next week—although next week is going to be a little weird, because it’s technically a “vacation.” This week has been a little weird too, since I arrived during the last week of a class cycle and since because of various absences I’ve had a different teacher almost every day. Next week there should be some other students who are on a stranger schedule like me who will be taking some oral classes, and I’m hoping things will settle into place after that.

Freiburg: Week 7

Amazingly, I have nearly completed my last full week in Freiburg. The last few days have been quite eventful. On Friday I was walking over to Huber, one of my favorite restaurants, to get a take-out. On the way I crossed through the grassy area in front of the Herz-Jesu Kirche, which is a popular spot for people to lie in the sun, have a picnic, walk their dog, and play with their children. Apparently, however, this is also the area in Freiburg where most violent crimes occur; it is not uncommon to see the police here, even during the day. I was approached by a young Afro-European man; initially he spoke in German, but switched to English when I said, “Ich spreche nicht gut Deutsch” (my fall-back when I don’t understand what someone is saying). The man, named Paul, told me that I was cool and beautiful, and that the only thing that would make him happy would be to spend time with me, to tell me about himself and get to know me. I told him that I was married (which he refused to believe) and not interested in a relationship. He responded that he was from France, and that he had moved to Freiburg because of a romantic relationship gone sour. He said that his heart had been broken many times by bad girls (both German and French) and somehow he knew that I was not that kind of person. He was like, it’s okay if you don’t want a relationship, I just want to go with you to dinner and accompany you on your errands. I refused to let him come with me, or to give him my phone number, and told him that I wanted to be alone. I had no way of knowing what kind of person he was, since we had only known each other for five minutes, and that I was leaving Freiburg in just a few days. It was a very strange and extremely uncomfortable exchange. Even though we were in a public place, surrounded by people, in broad daylight, I felt–for the first time since I’ve been in Europe–actual fear for my own safety. It was possible that he was telling the truth: that he was just lonely and sad and wanted a friend to talk to. On the other had, he might have stopped me simply because I looked vulnerable, and wanted to manipulate me for his own gain. I kept wondering, am I being paranoid or prudent? Paul seemed to understand why I wouldn’t let him come with me, but also insisted repeatedly that he had to see me again. In the back of my mind I kept wondering how I could extract myself from this conversation, and finally managed, after talking around the issue for several more minutes, to convince him that I was a lost cause. When I had finished running my errands I was concerned that he might follow me back to the Guesthouse. Again, I had no meter against which to measure this interaction, since nothing like this has ever happened to me before. But I decided to err on the side of caution, so I avoided walking back though the park and instead walked to my room another way, in the vicinity of the police station. That night I barely slept at all, simply because the event was so upsetting to me. I started to feel angry at the person for making me anxious, afraid, and unsettled. I have not seen him since, but I am now leery of walking through the park unless someone else is with me.

Yesterday I went with a group of students from the Goethe Institut to Colmar, France. The city had a magical, dream-like quality, almost like the setting for a fairy tale. The weather was perfect, and the intense sunshine made the colors of the city even more brilliant. I felt like Dorothy landing for the first time in Munchin-land, in the Land of Oz. I had a change to shop, explore, take pictures, and visit the Musée Unterlinden, which was absolutely fantastic. The museum is housed in a 13th century convent and contains both archaeological artifacts and works of art from the 11th to the 21st century. I found it very strange to be surrounded by people speaking French (although I love the musical quality of spoken French); knowing that I could not speak to them in German was somehow unnerving. I must have underestimated how comfortable I have become with German.   


Radolfzell: Week One

This was my first week in Radolfzell, and I spent most of it adjusting to the lifestyle here. On Monday, May 16, my flight landed in Zurich and I had to find my way to Radolfzell by train. Everything in Zurich was easier to manage because most things were said and written in German and English. Things went smoothly until I arrived in Radolfzell. Walking with a large suitcase in mild rain, I stumbled my way over to the Carl Duisberg Center. What I had not realized was that I was not staying at the actual center for eight weeks and that the actual guest house, where I would be staying, was about a mile away. It took me over an hour to find it, but I was just happy that I had finally made it. I settled into my room and went back out to get small errands done, but Monday was a holiday for Radolfzell, so almost everything was closed. I ended up going back to the guest house and getting ready to for class the next day.

The first day was overwhelming, only because of the speed at which the teacher and other students spoke. The teacher spoke so quickly, that I only understood about half of his lesson. I felt incredibly slow in comparison to the other students and felt embarrassed to speak at all. Not only did I pronounce words wrong, but I also stumbled over words as I tried to speak to other people. It got better over the next couple days, but not as much as I would have liked. Even though I still can’t quite understand 100% of the lesson or discussions in class, I feel like my listening comprehension has improved already. Speaking is still quite a challenge for me, and most people here can tell immediately that I am not from Germany. The ones who know English will respond to me in English, which is a little discouraging, but I try to continue on in German.

Outside of class, I run errands and attempt to speak to local people in German, which does not go so well mostly because I find my nervousness hinders my speaking. The more I worry about messing up, the more I end up stuttering, which is frustrating on my part. Another student from the Carl Duisberg Center told me not to feel sad or discouraged over my mistakes, because I will only be able to improve my speaking by continuing despite the mistakes. I felt better after hearing that from someone who spoke much better German than I did, and tried not to take it to heart when people could not understand me because I had chosen the wrong word or said it incorrectly. I still feel nervous and worry when I speak, but it has only been a couple days and I am doing slightly better than when I first came. I am usually more on the quiet side, so I am definitely going to have to try harder this coming week, and hopefully I will see even more improvement.

Overall, this week was mostly about adjusting. There were all kinds of things that were a little odd to me when I first came. There are not many crosswalks here, everyone brings their own bags to the grocery store, and the keys turn differently in the keyholes than in the USA. They are also really big on recycling so there are always at least three bins for anything ranging from trash, compost, paper, plastic, or glass. It was very confusing on my first day and a little confusing now too, but I have adjusted and can navigate my way around Radolfzell pretty well. I am glad I took some time to walk around random streets, because this place is so beautiful. There are flowers and trees everywhere, the ground is cobblestoned, and the buildings are often colorful. Radolfzell also has a great view of Lake Constance, which is right by the center. I feel very lucky to be here, and am excited for the next week to come!

My first week in Berlin

After an eight hour flight to Charles de Gaulle, where I promptly got lost and barely made my connection, I finally arrived in the German capital, home of the Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, Berlin wall, and so many other famous landmarks and historical events! Needless to say, I had trouble containing my excitement, but the brisk 48 degree Berlin weather and slight drizzle that greeted me were helpful in that regard.
I soon found my way to the apartment, which I share with two others who are in the same program. One is from Tunisia and the other Israel, both speak very little English which is really helpful for practicing my German, but not so much when they are trying to explain the rules of the apartment to you. So far I have only encroached on two of their rules.
I am amazed at the progress I have made in only a week of constantly speaking German. I have gotten much more used to the grammar and have even picked up on a few colloquial phrases. So far I have only made a handful of embarrassing language mistakes, which I count as a success. There are only two other native English speakers in my class of fifteen and I think that has helped.
Also, everyday after class I set off to explore different parts of Berlin. So far I have done touristy things and taken photos at the Brandenburger Tor and Reichstag, which will probably be uploaded to this blog later, and explored the Tiergarten. Berlin’s Tiergarten is similar to New York’s central park, except it is much much bigger. It is amazing, and impossible to describe in the few words I am given here, so I am going to leave it your imagination.
Overall the transition to life in Germany has been much smoother than expected. Its always interesting to see the small differences in the ways other societies operate. I quickly learned that everything is closed on Sundays and people do not say thank you for things as much in Germany. Pro tip, if you ask someone for directions and they cannot help you, do not thank them, this is seen as sarcastic and taken as an insult. I am sure there will be many other little things to come in the next nine weeks, so stay tuned in for the pro tips.
This weekend I am going to Prague with a group of friends and will continue exploring so I will have more to write about next week. Also, I will be visiting the museum island in Berlin. This island consists of five museums full of sculptures, paintings, and many other awesome things. The way by which much of this art came into German keeping is questionable at best, however: this is still a place renowned for its collection, so I cant wait to go!