Final Thoughts

  1. Spending two months in Germany taught me a lot about how I personally acquire language best. I have always been on the quiet side, and this experience really pushed me to talk as often as possible with as many new people as possible. Aside from speaking, being constantly flooded with German songs, writing, and people definitely influenced the rate of my improvement. It was very helpful being in class most of the day, where I received a steady and consistent amount of German grammar and practice. I believe I have reached most of my goals, such as speaking more comfortably and with less hesitation, making less grammatical errors when speaking, and improving the overall level of my German in writing, reading, listening, and speaking. But I know that I am still quite far from fluency, which I wish to continue to work towards.
  2. Living in Germany taught me about communication with people around the world. There were plenty of people who spoke English but for the most part, everyone opted to use German instead. Being able to communicate with people from different countries provided me new insight about the world; I feel that my world view has broadened greatly. There were always different cultural expectations from country to country, but generally, being polite or friendly was never difficult. I also just learned a lot about the way other people view the United States, as well as how other people view Germany. I never really thought about what the USA looked like to other countries, and I now have a better understanding of other countries’ world views. I would definitely advise someone applying for an SLA grant to be respectful and they will pick up on social cues and norms as they become more accustomed to the country they go to. Just speaking with people and making a best effort to get along goes quite far.
  3. I bought quite a lot of books when I was in Germany, and I am slowly tackling my way through them. There are so many words I don’t know but reading the book helps me remember my grammar as well as improve my vocabulary. This experience has made me want to return to Germany and hopefully become fluent in the language some day. I will begin TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) classes soon at Notre Dame, and I am excited to potentially work with the German language after college. Being abroad taught me to take more responsibility and also be less afraid to take steps forward even when I am unsure of myself. I believe the things I have learned from this experience will apply greatly to my continuing experience at Notre Dame and I will continue to keep the lessons from my experience in Radolfzell in mind as I move forward in my education and in the future.

Radolfzell: Week Eight

This week we learned grammar that was completely new to me. We had reached a point where are our teacher told us it may be helpful to stop translating the grammar to make sense in our native languages and just learn it as German, because we all struggled to understand how to correctly use the grammar we were learning. I understood the concept but kept making mistakes in using the actual grammar in sentences. By the end of the week, I managed to get a better grasp of how to use it and made less mistakes which made me happy.

Since it was my last week in Germany, I ended up trying to eat more traditional German food. Because I had not stayed with a host family, I ended up cooking or buying meals from the most convenient places, most of which were not German. I ate a lot of meat; most of the German food I tried was some kind of meat between bread, such as sausages or schnitzel. Schnitzel was interesting, mostly because it reminded me of a hamburger. It is a slice of meat that has been fried and can be eaten with noodles or with bread. Although I asked, no one really provided a clear enough answer on the historical importance of the food. Regardless, it tasted good and I enjoyed the new foods I tried.

This was my last week in Germany. While I have greatly improved my German, I hope to return one day and become even better. I appreciate this opportunity and all it has given me, whether it be friends from new places or a better understanding of a foreign language. I think most of all, I realized I want to keep learning new material and improving.

Radolfzell: Week Six and Seven

The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur. We have begun new material, much of which is a bit new to me. Although I have general knowledge of most German grammar, we are now learning more in depth grammar. It is interesting to see how much my writing has improved when I look back at homework assignments from the first week. I can definitely write longer and more complex sentences, and I have greatly improved my vocabulary. There are always new words to learn, however, but I am always interested in the logical formation of German words. My speaking has gotten quite a bit better as well, but I hope to continue to improve. My accent has improved greatly, and almost everyone can understand me when I speak in German now. I am a little worried about forgetting my German when I come back to the USA, because it is only getting better now by speaking every day.

I have asked about slang words, which I surprisingly have not heard used quite often. For the most part, the slang words I have asked about are well known by both young and old people. Apparently, it has been a recent thing to say things are “cool”, which is an English word but widely recognized by both younger and older people. “Sauer” is also a slang expression; literally, “sauer” means “sour” or “acidic”, but colloquially it is used like the word “angry”. This is an expression used by both older and younger people, and everyone understands what it means. The last slang word I learned and asked about was a little more controversial. Recently in the German language, younger people have used “geil” to express that something is “awesome”. But the tradition meaning of “geil” is “horny”. When I asked younger people about “geil”, they did not seem shocked or upset and explained that it was like “cool”. But for older people, they were shocked, although they explained later they knew the more modern use of the word. For older people, the slang word “geil” was more associated with the sexual meaning, because that is how it was used for most of their lives. Only for the younger generation is the word not automatically associated with a rather crude word. One person explained that in the future, the new meaning of “geil” will completely replace the old one.

This past week, I went with a group of students to Hohentwiel in Singen. It is an old castle on the top of a steep hill. Despite the rigorous walk, it was quite beautiful at the top. Everything was very green and sunny. All of the tops of the buildings were covered with plants and you could actually go up on the roofs of the buildings, because parts of the walls were worn down. We spent the afternoon walking around the castle and it was incredible to see the history of the place.

Radolfzell: Week Five

This week I learned about religion in Germany during “Lernstudio”. Almost all public holidays in Germany are actually church holidays, with many of the German people being Christians. For the most part, the local Germans all know their public holidays because they are avid church goers and thus recognize these holidays by their formal names, such as Corpus Christi from a few weeks back. Younger children do not seem to understand the religious background of the holidays, but in general most people are well aware of which holidays are which. My teacher had given a pretty detailed explanation of Corpus Christi; it is a solely Catholic holiday and is not always considered a public holiday in northern Germany. He explained that the southern part of Germany tends to be more Catholic than other regions, and many of the cities in the south have parades on Corpus Christi to celebrate. I remember I went to mass on Corpus Christi, which they celebrated outside in the town center. It was mostly older people and children that came with their parents. There are no public holidays coming up, so I asked a few local people about Corpus Christi, since it had been the most recent. While my teacher had given a very formal background of the holiday, the public holidays are typically considered time to spend with family. Most people do not have to work on public holidays, so they can spend time with their loved ones. Plenty of the students staying with host families mentioned barbecuing together or just having a large meal in general. In that sense, the public holidays are very different in their religious background as compared to the actual meaning for the people who celebrate them.

I believe my speaking has improved quite a bit, because I have less people switching to English when they hear me speak. It makes me happy that I am improving, and I am now very comfortable ordering food, making casual conversation, and contributing in class. I still think I need to learn more words, but that is something I need to continuously work on. I have bought a couple books in German and am struggling my way through them; I learn many new words this way. I have also made it a habit to look up words in advertisements or signs I see that I do not understand. I hate having to rely on my phone as a dictionary, but it is quite convenient. My little notebook with words I had not known grows bigger each and everyday, and I am very proud of it. In hindsight, I feel that staying with a host family would have been very beneficial in terms of improving my speaking, as the guesthouse is not always occupied. I still try to go out and find people to speak with instead, but it would probably have been easier to manage with a host family.

I also visited a friend in Lucerne, Switzerland this weekend and I had a little trouble adjusting to the Swiss German. It was also harder to engage in German because so many people just spoke English there. I saw the Lion of Lucerne as well as a rainbow, due to the constant drizzle. When I arrived back in Radolfzell, I felt so blessed to be here. Lucerne was a large city, full of tourists, noise, and English speakers. It was beautiful, but had such a different feeling from Radolfzell. Here in Radolfzell, everything is peaceful, and while most people can speak English, they typically stick with German. I grow even fonder of the language as I hear locals speak it; my tongue always feels so clumsy trying to pronounce certain German words, but it sounds so effortless and smooth when a local says it. Although my days here have become relatively routine, I still feel so excited and so lucky to experience life in Germany.

Radolfzell: Week Four

I think I have gotten a bit better at speaking, although I have a long way to go. I speak more often in class and with other people. I still slip into English occasionally and I still fumble over the words, but my German has gotten better, compared to my first week here. This week, other than the usual classes on Monday through Friday, I visited Stein am Rhein. It was a very beautiful and tranquil town, with old-fashioned buildings and a great view of the Rhine River. I actually got in the river and swam, as many of the other people did, but it was freezing. Because Stein am Rhein is in Switzerland, the people I encountered spoke in Swiss-Deutsch, which has a much different beat and rhythm to it than the German I have grown accustomed to.

It is interesting to learn the view the rest of the world has of the United States. Many of the people I meet and speak with in Germany talk about the US occasionally, and the most common topics tend to be education, politics, and vacationing.

For the most part, education and politics in the US seem to give off the most negative impressions. As I have written before, most of the other students have learned a compulsory language other than German and their native tongue in high school and they know that is not the same in American high schools. Not only that, but higher education in Germany is tuition-free, so many people are in disbelief when they ask how much university costs in the United States. I spoke with a friend from Spain who is in university as well; while tuition is not free in Spain, it is partially funded by the government, allowing him and others to more easily afford education. But he also spoke of the downsides of this system; many times his university could not afford to fix broken things or have less students per class. In terms of politics, everyone here knows about Donald Trump and our upcoming election. Donald Trump is not received well by any of people I have spoken to and the upcoming election is not viewed in a great light either. A friend from Lebanon explained that because she is ineligible to vote, she dislikes Trump but she cannot really do anything about him, which seems to be a general consensus amongst people I have spoken with.

But not everything about America is bad; many of the people think that the US has a lot to offer in terms of sights and things to do. Much like how I consider Europe an ideal place to go traveling, many people have told me about visiting New York or parts of Florida and California and how nice they thought it was there. Everyone seems to think the USA is a perfect vacationing place. There are a lot of American influences in Germany, and they recognize American celebrities, show American movies and TV shows, and listen to music made by American artists.

Radolfzell: Week Three

Time here seems to fly by; I cannot believe it has already been three weeks since I came to Germany. I get more accustomed to life in Radolfzell as each day passes. Although I occasionally slip into English, I do my best to go most of my day without it. I have been working on vocabulary, because I feel like I never have the words to say what I would like. I write down most words I do not recognize or know in a little notebook and define them on the next line. I never run out of new words and they are extremely useful to have with me.

Class is as it usually is, with lectures and discussions. My listening comprehension continues to improve, but it is far from perfect. Writing and reading seem much easier than they did three weeks ago. One interesting thing I realized is the number of languages the other people at the CDC already know. We do not have compulsory language lessons in American high schools, but most of the people here already speak at least one other language than German and their native language. For example, there was one day in class where half the students were conversing in French while only a few of us were at a complete loss. So I asked a Swiss student about how many languages she spoke, and she explained that she is from the French part of Switzerland but has learned English and is learning German because that is required of students at her school. I admire the ease with which the other students can communicate with a variety of people. It motivates me to work harder on learning to speak German, because I want to be able to communicate with people, even if they do not speak English.

On another note, ordering food and asking simple questions when purchasing things has become much easier compared to my first days in Germany. Less people switch to speaking in English with me, which makes me feel reassured that I am continuing to make progress. One of my favorite things to do here is go to flea markets. Many of the sellers do not speak English so they will engage in conversation in German with me, despite realizing that my German is not fluent. I have met many interesting people and learned interesting facts about Germany through the people and the items at flea markets. They are great opportunities to buy unique objects and converse with a variety of German locals. There is a giant flea market in Constance today, so large that it crosses over the Swiss border. I am very excited to be heading there today and will hopefully be conversing with many new people!

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.

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!