Final Weeks in Amman

This will be my last blog post! The past few weeks have been amazing and tomorrow I will be heading back to Chicago after what feels much longer than two months.

We have been preparing for final exams and projects in class. Our final exam presentation is about anything we have experienced and want to share with the class from our time in Amman. This is a culmination of what we have been doing, just speaking to each other only in Arabic during class.

In addition to studying, the past few weeks have been the best in Amman. One of my roommates is friends with the lead singer of Jadal, a popular Jordanian band, and they had their album release concert this week! We have hung out with them a few times this summer and it was so exciting to hear them perform. Experiencing an Arabic concert, surrounded by Jordanians, was an amazing example of all the experiences that have helped me grow culturally over this summer.

As the end of my trip was coming to an end, I was worried I would not get to see Petra, Wadi Rum, or Aqaba. With my roommate and some classmates, we joined a trip to see all of these places in one weekend. The first stop was Petra. Petra, one of the most amazing wonders of the world, was every bit as hot and tiring as the guidebooks say. We got to see all of the sights in just a few short hours (though not for as long as we would have wanted to). After being humbled by the gigantic ruins of Petra, we hopped on our bus and headed for Wadi Rum, a red desert. This too was extremely hot, but thankfully we were staying overnight and would not have to experience it during the day. The next morning, after a night under the stars, we headed for Aqaba. Aqaba is a very unique coastal resort city. From Aqaba, you can see Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the West Bank, and Israel. After swimming and sight-seeing in Aqaba, we started the 8 hour journey back to Amman. This journey was further complicated by the many, many checkpoints we encountered. At one of the checkpoints, a Jordanian officer even proposed to a pretty girl on our bus (a joke of course).

This opportunity afforded to me by the SLA grant has opened my eyes to the amazing culture, shown me varying perspectives, and above all, advanced my Arabic skills. By the end of the summer, I was understanding what was going on in my fast-paced, Arabic only class. Towards the beginning of the summer, I could understand some directions or questions, but through the skits and activities we performed during class, I became more comfortable with Arabic. Obviously, I also had a great deal of exposure to the culture. One cannot understand the culture of Jordan without understanding the surrounding conflicts. Many people in Jordan are Palestinian, married to a Palestinian, or have many friends that are Palestinian. There are also many refugees from Palestine, Syria, and Iraq. The politics in Jordan are also very interesting. It is a constitutional monarchy. The King (Abdullah II) and the Prime Minister share the executive branch. The royal family is viewed with huge levels of positivity. Their modernity and willingness to adapt is what makes them so appealing to many, including myself. This love for the royal family and their positive work in so many areas, including education improvements for young girls and boys, is impossible to experience without interacting with Jordanians. I also was afforded the amazing opportunity to work with Right to Play Jordan in their Amman office. This inspired me when deciding what type of internships and jobs I want to take in the future. In the Spring of 2017, I will be working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and my time in Jordan, as well as with Right to Play motivated me to apply for this. I will definitely use all that I have learned about language and culture, and also professional skills working with organizations in the future.

Week 5-6 in Amman

This week we continued progressing in our Arabic studies and I am getting more and more comfortable in conversation and speaking faster. I am more comfortable understanding not only my teachers, but taxi drivers and other people I encounter in daily life. This week, while volunteering with Right to Play – Jordan, I sat in on a meeting about education and the programs they have been running. They were trying to create a survey to measure the effectiveness of their workshops. They tried to use only formal Arabic instead of dialect and surprisingly, having learned vocabulary relating to children and education, I was able to follow a decent amount of the conversation.

This weekend, I went to visit the Dead Sea with my friend from Russia/UAE. It was very nice to relax and swim. This was on my bucket list for Jordan and I am so glad I made it to see this place mentioned frequently throughout history.

Week 4 in Amman

This first week was very short. We only had two days of class because of Eid. For the past month it has been a hard, but fun adjustment, to life in Jordan. This week is our mid-summer break and some classmates and I are using it to travel to Cairo and Alexandria. This is a once in a life time trip and will give us useful insight into other cultures and traditions in the Middle East, to round out our experience.

When I returned, I finally figured out how to cook eggplant, peppers, garlic, and onion and add it to rice for a nice homemade meal. This is a real step forward for me and I incorporated some common vegetables used here. In Arabic class, my class has been getting pretty close due to the small class sizes. We have made some memes in Arabic and our Arabic teachers loved them! I also found some great cafes to study near Rainbow Street and I am looking forward to going back in the weeks I have left.

8th Week in Berlin (The Last Weekend)

It is right now my last week in Berlin. Two months ago, I planned for this weekend a trip to Eisenach, to visit the childhood home of Bach and Luther, and to admire the Wartburg castle, wherein the legendary medieval singing competition of Meistersingers, which later inspired the work of Tannhäuser by Wagner, supposedly took place. It is with great reluctance that I cancelled this well-planned trip, yet I felt the strong “necessity of conscience”, to spend and relish this last weekend in my host city, Berlin.

It was at this weekend that I experienced some of the most marvellous sides of Berlin. On Friday, under the mood of good weather, I set out after class to the very west districts of Berlin, Wannsee and Lichterfelde. It was a joy to see that Berlin, although being a busy metropolitan no lesser than New York, also has its wonderful sides of Nature with large bodies of water and large areas of forests. And those areas of green are sacred for Berliners, who habitually spend their weekends lying on the lake beaches or under the shades of tress with friends, families to enjoy warm weathers, or going out on a hiking trip into the wooded hills after lunches. I sometimes like to sit upon a stone at a ruin piece on an island called “Schwanenwerder” and gaze at the woods on the opposite shore. That day I spent a peaceful late afternoon there reading a book facing the sunset, and after that, a hearty Berlin local meal at a Biergarten nearby. Berlin food is known to be hearty but simple (because of the lack of care for time-consuming delicacies due to lack of time, they are busy people), yet the food started to feel juicy under a setting of Nature: food with ingredients from the nature which is directly accessible, the nature you feel such a personal connection with, is typical of Berlin food. Fontane wrote so favourably of Berliner food: “Dill, Morcheln, Rübchen aus Teltow, Oderkrebse, Hecht und Zander aus brandenburgischen Seen, Gänse aus dem Oderbruch, Honig aus Kienbaum, Milch und Butter aus dem Havelland, Gurken und Leinöl aus dem Spreewald.”

The Germans have an obsession with forests. If one looks at the map of Germany, one might feel surprised at how much of the geographical space is covered with green. Berlin is virtually surrounded by forests, and the “Central Park” of Berlin, “Tiergarten” is actually an isle of forest within the city (in comparison to the Central Park of New York, which is mostly lawn). This obsession with forests has its cultural reasons, as the imagery of forests is common in German literature, and this mentality permeates into peoples’ cultural life. On Saturday that weekend, I was lucky to enjoy an open-air concert by West-eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim at the stage of Waldbühne (literally, Forest Stage). The venue was an open-air theatre in the midst of a forest based on the model of ancient Greek theatres. Although I found the fact uncomfortable that the venue was designed for the Nazis, yet the moment when the sun beams shined through the tree branches at a very tender musical passage by Liszt convinced me that the place has already been exorcised. The air was full of scent of late summer, and the sun gradually went down during Wagner’s “Morgendämmerung und Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt”. It was one of the most beautiful moments of music-listening, and I hope one day I will be conducting on this stage as well!


7th Week (Week of wandering in Nature)

That day a friend in my class and I got into a conversation about German songs (Lieder), and this famous one by Schubert occurred to both of us, because both of us could sing it:

Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust,
Das Wandern!
Das muss ein schlechter Müller sein,
Dem niemals fiel das Wandern ein,
Das Wandern.

(“Wanderschaft” Die schöne Müllerin, Wilhelm Müller)

Night fell and I came home. Sitting long at my desk and staring onto the sky and down to the woods in the yard, I suddenly felt something in me that was triggered, most likely by this song. I realised I had been staying in Berlin for the entire month, and even though I travelled before I came to Berlin, I travelled still mostly in towns. Before I came to Germany, I was in Shanghai and New York. Before my long holiday, places I frequented were Notre Dame (of course), Chicago, and Madison. I realised that I have always been in the city, in a town, or at least in the places that highly feature human civilisation and regulated by human regularities. I gazed at the moon, whose silver beams mix with the nocturnal sounds of crickets, and suddenly felt a strong desire to break out from everything, and to go into the nature, the deeper, the farther, the better.

I pulled out a map of Germany, and happened to see a large patch of green near Dresden. It is called Saxon Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz). I was immediately fascinated by the information I found about it – in short, it is a mountainous region with sublime rock formations and river valleys. Since it was discovered in 1766 by two Swiss painters, countless romantic poets, musicians, and painters have set foot on the famous wandering route “Malerweg” (Painter Way) to be inspired. I made arrangements immediately, did research on the estimated duration of each stage of hiking, and called the inns there to settle down several overnights to connect different stages of the hiking.

The first day of hiking I was welcomed by storm. I stood at the porch of the inn and looked into the mountains. Heavy showers shrouded the forests in a dark and mysterious timbre. Mists rose from the woods and spread across the meadow, and made the landscape seem somehow deeper and grander. The entire view was in a way intimidating, but somehow alluring. I set out, intending to experience the might of nature. On this day’s trip I admired the curious thrusting rock forms in the forest, through which the path zigzagged. The rocks went sometimes over the head, sometimes solemnly pointed downwards, sometimes intertwined with each other. At many points, one has to go through some of the openings in the rock in a crouched position. The next thing I remember of that day was the view of Bastei Bridge, which dramatically stood across several high rocks, overlooking the grand valley of Elb river, the villages resting on the shores, and the abyss down the rocks. Right next to the bridge stood since 19th century an inn with a valley-view restaurant. I thought there was nothing better that having a hearty meal while gazing out into the valley. The mists floated in the valley still, half-transparent and uneven, and clouds were floating as well below our height. The broad Elb river could be partly seen through the sea of fog from here above, lying in tranquillity. The misty weather, I thought, seemed to make everything look more remote and convey an alluring grandeur.

Close to sunset I finally wandered to the inn I stayed at that night. Lying deep in a valley protected by the woods and a castle high above, it rested on a mill and has maintained its cosy hospitality since 1842 for wanderers. On the ground floor is a restaurant, on the upper floors are guest rooms. The house was furnished in completely 19th century wooden décor, and conveyed to my standard the best cosiness. After an extremely generous dinner, I came back to my room which was cosily small and with a window looking out to the mountains. The sun gradually retreated, the mists rose over the forests, which grow darker and deeper. Several hours passed and the moon rested itself on the top of a cliff, and under the moonlight, even the mists started to glow. The stream flowed past the mill with merry sounds and entertained with the cows on the lawn. I felt as if I have unconsciously slipped into a nostalgic old fairyland, secluded, quiet, and idyllic. I sat upon the window, turned off all the lights except the dim lamp beside me, and intended to enjoy this serene night. Under moonlight I took out my pocket poetry collection, and read:

Mondbeglänzte Zaubernacht,
Die den Sinn gefangen hält,
Wundervolle Märchenwelt,
Steig auf in der alten Pracht!

(aus „Wunder der Liebe“, Ludwig Tieck)

In the following three days I wandered the entire region until the village Schmilka on the border of Czech republic. Looking back into those wandering days, I thought of memories of climbing rocks, being assailed by the chill in the forest, strolling along the stream, being welcomed by inns, walking past mills, resting in forest grottos, etc. I believe that these moments, though experienced not always with easiness, will remain in my heart. The last night I rested in an inn at the foot of the mountain, and as I looked back to the ridges, I found it unbelievable that nature just revealed me her beauty with such generosity. It was my Romanticist tendency that drew me to nature, and this unique experience seemed to have brought me closer to Goethe, Eichendorff, Schubert, Schumann and Wagner. The images of Saxon Switzerland will always come back to mind, and remind me of the fairness of Creation.

The train back to Berlin ran along Elb valley, and as I watched the river and quaint villages in golden morning light pass by my view, I bid my farewell to this patch of land, as the last several clock towers of the churches gradually left my view.

Bald werd ich dich verlassen,
Fremd in der Fremde gehn,
Auf buntbewegten Gassen
Des Lebens Schauspiel sehn;
Und mitten in dem Leben
Wird deines Ernstes Gewalt
Mich Einsamen Erheben,
So wird mein Herz nicht alt.

(aus „Abschied“, Eichendorff)

5th Week in Berlin (On German National Character)

The topic of discussion of three days of this week centred around the national character of the Germans, and some interesting but important conclusions were made, or at least suggested, that probably surprised many of us.

When asked to describe a typical image of the German character, what do people think of? On one of the classes we were asked to choose from a large group of adjectives certain ones that correspond with our image of German characters in our mind, and thereafter to talk with one other and explain why we chose certain words (as a speaking exercise). Perhaps not surprisingly, the most students I talked to chose many of the words that I also chose, such as “disciplined”, “serious”, “diligent”, “routine-oriented”, “punctual”. Indeed, the notion that the Germans are traditionally obsessed with discipline, rules, and precision is common worldwide. More importantly, this notion is also very true and historically grounded.

The formation of a national character has to do with not only biological factors, but more importantly, with historical ones. In the case of Germany, the historical condition of the people and the formation of the modern German nation play an important role in shaping the German mentality. In contrary to the medieval France, England Sweden or Russia, that continually developed into established monarchies grounded in firmly feudal societies, the German empire “Kaiserreich” remained a loose confederate with individual states under the sovereignty of local electorates instead of an overriding monarchy. The loose structure of the German land proved to be a special weakness during the time of religious wars of the 16th and 17th century, conflicts within the German-speaking realm between protestant and catholic sovereignties were also common. Another consequence of the loose structure of the German society was the lack of a prominent privileged social class, as existed in France or Britain. The German society has been primarily a society of the middle class with a high degree of social and professional mobility that is accessible to everyone.

The above-mentioned historical factors would have led to a national character that is completely opposite to what we think of the German character. Yet how comes the “rules-obsessed”, “authority-obeying” German tendency? According to the Netherlandish sociologist Geert Hofstede, the historically loose structure of the German society led to a tendency of “Uncertainty Avoidance” (Unsicherheitsvermeidung), that paradoxically explained the German predilection for anything planned, organised, governed and their obsession with orderliness. All these tendencies developed out of the intention to prevent uncertainty under an extremely insecure society. This German character was further strengthened after WWII, as political correctness, national righteousness and moral tightness were the centre of discussions. Moreover, the highly developed automobile industry in Germany made “Made in German” a world-recognised label for good quality, and a highly respected image of the German industry.

However, some of my personal experiences seem to be contrary of the above-mentioned German character. I was at first very surprised at how often the buses in Berlin are not on time, and if that may be due to the changeable traffic situations, many Germans simply disprove the public notion of the national character as too stereotypical. Many say that Germans nowadays are simply not as upstanding, punctual or conscientious in personal life as one often thinks. It also seems that there is a large body of young people who can’t help but to break out from the confines of traditional German virtues. Our instructor told us of his story of his youth: when he and his sister were driving home and they finished eating the hamburger in the car, he told his sister, “This time let’s do something totally crazy: let’s simply throw the packages out of the window.” And they did it. (That’s important.)

Till today, I have not understood what’s going on in the national mentality of the Germans. Some say that the Germans loosened their hold on virtues such as “punctuality” and “discipline” because these are secondary virtues, and they now put more effort into “primary” virtues such as personhood and business morality. But I don’t see the necessity of losing “secondary virtues” for the sake of “primary virtues”. And I wonder, why not have both?

However, it is also important to recognise that this deviation from traditional German virtues in personal life does not apply to everyone and necessarily to the work place. Many sectors of industries in Germany have a higher degree of professionalism than their counterparts in other countries. In my conversation with the manager of Steinway Berlin, I recounted on my experience with the German-made Steinway pianos (I practice at the Steinway studio every afternoon), that sound and feel better than the Steinways I played in the USA, and I was told that is because piano-making is a specific profession in Germany and the individual piano makers are professionalised and have to train for 10 years to acquire mastership of piano making in order to work in the Steinway factory in Hamburg. This lengthy process of professionalization of piano makers do not exist in most piano manufacturers in the world.

Perhaps this high degree of professionalism is still typically German and explains the high quality of German products. It might be safe to say that the traditional German virtues are still at work at higher societies and business situations, yet probably more German nowadays choose to live with a double standard – making a larger distinction between public sphere and private life. Yet German mentality might well be more complicated, and must take more years for me to thoroughly fathom.

Berlin Week 4 (An impressionistic view of Berlin)

One often asks: Where is the Centre of Berlin?

To answer this question is apparently difficult. Is it Brandenburger Gate? Grand, upstanding and victorious, it commemorates the Prussian victory over Napoleon. Its stature rightly qualifies it to be the Centre. Geographically, it is also indeed close to the centre, and moreover, it is situated also in the district “Mitte” (German “Centre). However, as it turns out, I have not been there for even once since I came here 4 weeks ago; and natives don’t go there as well and don’t tend to put it into mind – it seems only tourists go there. Some say the centre is Potsdamer Platz, but it’s obviously too modern to be representative of a historical city. Others recognise the area of Bundestag and Kanzleramt as the centre, but it is s centre of politics, and has an air of being lofty from our folks’ chit-chats. As a matter of fact, this question is difficult to answer when applied to any major cultural capital, be it New York, London, or Paris, but it has almost been agreed upon that this question is especially irrelevant to Berlin, because it is impossible for Berlin to be more multifarious. That being said, if I were to choose a place most representative of Berlin, I would definitely go for the entire Mitte and Potsdamer Platz.

It has been an established routine for me to take the bus 200 everyday from Alexanderplatz after class to my piano studio near Cornelius Bridge. Thats almost a southwest-northeast diagonal across the city. On these bus trips, I have almost never feel inclined to take up my usual habit of reading on public transportation; instead, I take a seat on the upper decker and cannot help but passively absorb the sights of human seas, traffic, and peculiarities of architecture.

Most part of my bus route goes through the “Mitte”, the historical district with boulevards, palaces, and opera houses. The painting of Eduard Gaertner Unter den Linden may well revoke the look of the central boulevard in the past (19 century). However, when one walks along Unter den Linden nowadays, one sees construction sites and notices that almost every building along this historical district is scaffolded. There may be some scaffolding upon the dome of Berliner Cathedral, and the State Opera House of Berlin has moved out of Schiller Theatre because of construction work. It is a shame that the tourists cannot see the most appealing looks of the historical architectures, but it is paradoxically, and probably ironically impossible to ignore the essential beauty even in these constructions projects. With very strict construction regulations and maintenance of traffic order, the constructions do not disrepute the German orderliness. But more importantly, it is deeply exciting to stand at a vantage point of view, for example on the tower of Berliner Cathedral, overlook the grand expanse of construction work peacefully going on and to imagine how the city would look in 20 years’ time in the future, when the building projects would likely have been finished. Most areas of the city centre of Berlin have been destroyed by allied bombing, but instead of building new buildings with glass walls in rigid grids, people have decided to bring back the historical spirit of the city by painstakingly rebuilding Mitte. Underlying this decision is a respect for a nation’s cultural values and historical identity, which are to be carried along and treasured.

Potsdamer Platz has rightly been referred to as Berlin’s new “Mitte”. In the 18th century here stood a toll station and two main roads – Berlin-Potsdamer Chaussee and Preußische Staatschaussee. After WWII this site was where the British, American and Soviet occupation zones bordered each other. Since 1961 the Berlin Wall ran through here and this space therefore became almost a no-man’s land. Several remnants of the former Wall still stand here solitarily, solemnly reminding people the historical scars and fragmentation of this city. Therefore, as a matter of fact, the current layout of Potsdamer Platz only took place shortly after the reunification in 1990. Several buildings are especially representative of the modern flair in the district: Forum Tower in Daimler Complex, Kollhoff Tower, Bahn Tower and Sony Centre. A stroll along the Neue Potsdamer Strasse always inspires excitement and awe, for as a connecting point overriding the former east and west Berlins, Potsdamer Platz expresses itself with a stylistically neutral, thus ultra-modern tonality. It is as if in order to present the totally new facet of Berlin emerging from the darkness of 20th century, the building projects adopt modernity with an extra dosage.

If the Mitte symbolises a historical retrospection, the Potsdamer Platz definitely present a futuristic anticipation. Such is the charm (or more objectively, particularity) of Berlin – it is multifaceted, fragmented, scarred, complicated and above all, diverse. Compared to other cultural capitals, such as New York, Chicago, London or Paris, that are mostly established and intact in comparison, Berlin has suffered significantly in the wars and under the cold war shadows, and in recent decades it has went through a series of re-design, reconstruction and renovation. Besides the remaining historical districts of Berlin, Berlin also appears to be an exciting building ground for new projects and possibilities; it is both old and new, rooted in traditions but in many ways also futuristic. In such a city, one might feel lost, lost in a confusion of identities and feel isolated in a nonchalant irrelevance, but for those who stay here with a sense of purpose and vision, Berlin is always wonderful.

What I learned

Hello everyone,

This study abroad experience taught me much more than just a language. For instance, I learned quite a bit about the language acquisition process as well. At the beginning of the program, I felt as though I was making no progress. Toward the end, however, all of a sudden I made a huge jump. I still do not really understand how it happened. Of course the program was the reason, but the suddenness of the change was shocking. I think it was very interesting.

Further, I learned about the culture of Japan. I did not really have to confront the culture; it confronted me. Just being in Japan, there was no escaping the constant immersion to which I was subjected. Even hanging out with American friends, the Japanese culture was ever-present and permeating. Sitting on the floor for meals, eating, bathing, sleeping. Everything is different.

I did not really experience culture shock like some others that I know. Throughout the program I held the view that my home was superior. Because of this, I missed my hometown a little. But the culture is not as off-putting as simply being away from home.

I believe, additionally, that I achieved the goals that I set for myself. My language skills have kept pace with my peers who have studied similar content in a much longer amount of time.

From this experience, I can definitively say that America is still the greatest nation on Earth. But this certainly does not mean that I had a unpleasant time. I loved everything and everyone. That is why I can say that Japan on its best day cannot beat America on a bad one.

If anything, my worldview has definitely fixed its heading toward exactly where it was heading before I left. Now I have seen firsthand the havoc that cultural socialism has wreaked on the minds of the once-proud Japanese people. No longer do they pay any mind to the important things. They have forgotten their religion and all religions. Despite this, they still have a quaintness that has perished in America. It makes me feel at home among the Japanese.They do not viciously fight the supernatural in Japan; they merely are ambivalent.

My advice to anyone who is going to study abroad on the SLA grant: Make sure you know what you are getting into. My summer program was literally the hardest class that I have ever taken. It destroyed me. But it was good for me. I am better now because of it. Also, be sure not to take things so seriously, and you will be fine.

From here, I plan to continue my language study in college and beyond. I want to continue with Japanese, start German, and re-teach myself Latin. Learning any language helps you learn other languages. I, without a doubt, will not use my Japanese in any official capacity. But that is okay. I got what I wanted to get out of the program. I learned. Pure learning. I was not doing it for a job. I was not doing it for anything. I am so thankful for that. This experience has truly opened my mind to another angle of learning that science, math, philosophy, or any other study could never do. Language is a very specific study. Because it is so specific it has broadened my ability to learn in general. Thank you.

God bless,

Nicholas Gerstbauer

Post-Program Reflection

A month has passed since I returned from my summer abroad in Beijing, and I’d like to share a few reflections on my time there.

Overall, I don’t regret participating in the program.  I experienced Chinese culture firsthand, I enjoyed spending time with my language professors, and of course, I will miss the food.  It is essential to spend time in a foreign country if you intend to master its language with some degree of proficiency.  I am now taking Fourth Year Chinese as a junior, and I feel completely competent in my language abilities.  I might have to return to basics for using Chinese in certain situations (like giving detailed directions, or in overly formal academic writing), but I now have the ability to discuss China’s complex economic, social, and political issues using Chinese.

Admittedly, the transition to study-abroad life was difficult.  The course load was heavy, there were few opportunities for independent exploration in and around the city, and my classmates rarely coordinated plans.  However, I made friends with Chinese students, waiters, shop-owners, and workers all around campus – I still communicate with some of them on WeChat (a Chinese messaging app used in place of Facebook, which is banned by the government) and through these connections, I’m able to casually and continually maintain my language skills, particularly the rapidly-growing collection of Chinese internet slang.

I feel very fortunate to have received the support of so many of my family and friends, and for the opportunity to live in China (even during the unbearably hot summer!).  I will never forget my experiences at Peking University, and I feel I can speak Chinese with much greater confidence than before.

Post-Program Reflection

Now that I have been back in the United States for about a month, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my SLA grant experience:

Even though I’ve studied languages in school since the fourth grade, this summer was my first experience of immersion in a foreign language environment. Unsurprisingly, the this made a significant difference in my language learning. At the beginning of the summer I could basically order food in a restaurant, with some effort; by the end of the summer I could navigate most daily situations once would encounter, and carry on a basic conversation without hesitation. The key to my learning was being willing to jump into conversations with native speakers in order to learn, knowing I would make mistakes. It was a choice I had to make everyday. Looking back on my learning goals, I believe I’ve met each one to varying degrees. Although I am still developing my translation skills, I am much less phased by complex paragraphs and sentences than previously. I can definitely carry on a basic conversation with a native German speaker. And I was able to travel a great deal of southwestern Germany, so I have a better sense of the landscape and culture of the area I study for my research.

I’d travelled and studied abroad before, but never in continental Europe. Being in Germany, especially during a summer full of major political events (Brexit, the US presidential election, the failed coup in Turkey, violence in both the US and Europe), was eye-opening. The geographical and cultural situation of the US can be isolating in terms of larger political developments. In Europe, this is simply not possible. What’s happening in another country directly affects the country you are living in, and you can’t avoid awareness of this. I’d encourage those applying for the SLA of preparing to study abroad to enter not just into the language but also the culture and politics of place they are studying. However, don’t get so caught up in following politics on the internet that you don’t actually go outside and enjoy being in a different place!

I plan to continue developing my German so that I can use it to discuss German language literature in my dissertation. I am currently taking a advanced German for research class here at Notre Dame, and will start digging into the texts relevant to my dissertation in the next year. I am also keeping up my conversational skills by practicing with my roommate, who is a native German speaker, and taking advantage of the many opportunities the German department at Notre Dame offer for conversation practice. Overall, the SLA grant has inspired and enabled me to push my research in new directions I’d never expected before.