Monday, August 31, 2009

Englisch Unterricht

[ English class ]

Today was a very cool event for me since Klara had arranged an invitation with her English teacher at school to have me visit the class. I left my German classes at the CDC during my mittagspause, lunch break, and headed across town to Ludwigsgymnasium which is Klara's school. Walking in was a bit different from what I was expecting. I was anticipating to have to check in at an office after passing a few overbearing hall monitors and fumble through some German sentences

"Yes, I am an American visitor here to visit Klara Weber...bitte...",

but it was nothing like that. Actually, Klara met me outside and I walked right in - security-wise, it was completely different from schools I have been to, or been a student in, from America. [ I don't know if that is just Saarland, however, which is a generally safe area, or if that is a national trait ]. I must say though that Klara seemed extremely proud to be bringing me into the school, especially with 5 of her friends grinning and trailing behind her for my entrance.

The hallways were rowdy, and so was the classroom that I had entered. The classroom was rather bare, which when I discussed school systems around the world with Eva, she made a valid point about. She aknowledged the benefits of the American school system - wow, a complement I didn't have to work for here in Germany! -especially the aspect that students have lockers and switch classrooms and teachers have their own personal classrooms. She felt this added to the creativity of the classroom, and a more welcoming learning enviroment for the particular subject with posters and materials which I can definitely agree with.

Klara's classroom was rather bare, which is not so new to me since my classroom in Japan was similar as well [ remember my intrigue based off of the connections of the schools systems of these two countries. ] What was more of a surprise to me was how I forgot about what it was like to be a 12 year old - which is around 6th grade in the US. So much giggling and clickiness between boys and girls. The teacher walked in and I was able to introduce myself to her. She spoke with a pronounced British accent, yet it still had a touch of German. She told me that I would get to utilize the first 10 - 15 minutes of the class to have a question and answer opportunity with the students and they would ask me questions in English.

The class started at the bell and all the students stood up to greet the teacher [ in English of course ] before they were directed to sit back down. I followed suit and did the same, even though I was at least a half foot taller than all the students in the room.

I was very impressed that even though the students have only studied English for one year, the class was completely instructed in English - no translations for vocabulary either - which I was surprised about for the young age. I was introduced to the class as Klara's special guest, and they were all instructed to take notes of my answers as they asked me questions in English. The opportunity was very fun and I enjoyed some of the cute, and funny questions from the pre-teens, especially for the fact that they spoke in short, choppy Brittish accents!

What is your name?

How many languages can you speak?

Where are you from?

What time do you go to bed?

... ?!
[I liked that one] :)

and I think my favorite -

What do you do with friends?
... So do you like Chilling?

Hearing that slang come from a young German speaking with a Brittish accent was really funny to hear.

The Q&A was very fun, and I was actually surprised with myself how difficult it was to answer the questions with a fair vocabulary for the students to understand. Even so, their command of English at this point was very impressive for their ages, even if it was rudimentary.

The next part of the class I was able to observe. The teacher went over some new vocabulary on the board and opened disucssion in the class over words that dealt with " Going on holiday" - very Brittish already as you can tell.

The words ranged from where to go, to where to stay, and I thought it was pretty funny that one student raised his hand and said " You can stay under a bridge". I don't know about his vacationing, but I'll spare the cardboard boxes for my European travels, danke.

The 45 minutes flew by, and the students were all out of their desks again and out of the room. The teacher invited me back to the class anytime, so hopefully I can visit Klara again this month. The experience was short, but a very good opportunity for me to learn and observe. Education is something that has interested me, as I have noted before, and the differences here in Germany that I have noticed already, and some I haven't even jotted down here yet, are more abundant than I thought. After leaving the school I wasn't done learning, however, since it was back to my course across town for some more German komunikationstrainings!

Viel Glück Adam!

[ Good luck Adam! ]

This year has already begun with so many incredible experiences and I am sure that there will be many more to come, but I must admit that as excited as I am to be here, there are a few things back home that I am missing out on.

Sunday my younger brother, Adam, packed up all his bags and headed off to Michigan State for his first day of college. As the older brother, I would have loved to have been there to help him move in and experience the nerve-wracking and exciting time that moving into college is. As a matter of fact he will be done with his first year of college before I even return to the states, so I won’t get to visit him once.

It is one of the things that I am missing out on, and I want to wish him [and Louise too!] all the best with his first exciting year at MSU. It may not be UofM ;) but I know that it is the best place for him with what he wants to study. Study hard! Viel Glück und habe Spaβ! Good luck and have fun!

[Klara is here with me as we are watching TV and she says Good Luck too!]

politischen Parteien

[ Political parties ]

Being here in Germany during the exciting time of local and national elections has made me very interested in researching further the political culture here in the country. I have been introduced to many new political parties just by seeing the signs around town with slogans and faces, which is common in America as well since we have a lot of political parties too, but Germany is different. The country is not exactly bipartisan, and easily divided between two distinct political groups like the Republicans and the Democrats. There are quite a few political parties, and they all make up the national government together, and this results in many different ideas, and many coalitions – mergers and agreements between political parties – as well, which makes things complicated to understand.

For starters, I think it is safe to say now that I have learned that Liberal, in German, has a completely different meaning than its North American English counterpart. Liberale in German, when discussing politics, typically refers to a politician that favors smaller governments, lower taxes and less government involvement and regulation. This is almost the exact opposite of the Liberal views in America, and almost matches more with the American viewpoints from Republicans. Liberale tend to favor free-markets, free-trade and more private initiatives. This is just one of the first differences in viewpoints in German and American politics, and it is interesting how this plays a role in a country in which, from the American perspective, leans more left [ since I can’t say liberal anymore without creating some waves in understanding] Confused yet?

To discuss any election, one must first understand the parties that are involved and what they believe in. This has been the trickiest part for me balancing out where each stands [which I learned the hard way by drawing a spectrum line with conservative and liberal for Eva, and her being confused when trying to fill it out – see above paragraph ]. There are many political parties in Germany, but four that really make up the majority of the government.

[ Some of my classmates lucked out with some free breakfast from the SPD party one morning! ]

The SPD, Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands – Social Democracy party, believes in a party platform where "freedom, justice, and social solidarity, form the basis of social democracy. They believe in a social market economy with output distributed fairly, and see that system as the key to ensuring fair treatment for the entire population.

The CDU, Christlich Demokratische Union – Christian Democratic Union Party, is a Christian based party that believes in applying the principles from the roots of Christianity and Christian Democracy for the "understanding of humans and their responsibility toward God." In Germany this party is more conservative, but rejects coalitions with parties that are extremist. They believe in a social market economy, which has been the norm in Western Germany since after WW2, and is a plan that does not wish to implement a fully planned and controlled economy, but not a socialist or laissez-faire either. It comprises of private enterprises with government regulation to create an economy with fair competition, low unemployment, low inflation and standards in the working environment. The CDU is noted for having strong ties with the USA, which serves Germany as a strong ally in promoting international peace and freedom. The SPD is a strong opponent of the CDU – something important to address for when I elaborate on the role of Chancellor, Angela Merkel, later.

The FDP, Freie Demokratische Partei - Liberal International Party, believes in the values of a government that is "as extensive as necessary, and as limited as possible. In other words, a government that is only big enough to accomplish what it is meant to do, and not become any stronger [reflecting the fears of the Federalists from early American history, which is my best connection]. This makes the FDP a close ally to the CDU party. The main differences of the parties are their views in social policies. The CDU, being more conservative, is a supporter of stricter punishments in crime, utilizing the Bundeswehr [The Federal Defence Force of Germany] in regards to issues of domestic anti-terrorism and natural catastrophes, and creating more programs to assist initiatives of integrating immigrants, such as language courses. The FDP respectively is skeptical of such conservative policies and public intervention. It is worth noting that the FPD is significantly less represented than the CDU in Germany.

[ Good jobs, good pay for everyone! ... Unmöglich - imposible? or a socialist dream? ]

The Left PartyDie Linke – strives for democratic socialism, and has more radical views than the aforementioned SPD party. I should note here that, Oskar Lafontaine, the leader of this party and also up for election here in Saarland, used to be a member of the SPD in the 90’s but has since moved to this new Left Party which was officially conceived from a merging of a few extremist parties in 2007. Even in today’s world of globalization, the Left party includes members ranging from social democrats, all the way to extremists, including communists. For this reason, discussing die Linke with some Germans can cause them to tilt their heads to the side and look a little uncomfortable having to admit that this party still has such a standing within the national government [around 9%]. In terms of fiscal policy, die Linke believes in a redistribution of weath, and a heavy taxation on corporations, big businesses and wealthy individuals. They reject privatization, believe in a minimum wage [ it is interesting to note that there isn’t one here in Germany! ] and generally would prefer to overthrow high power institutions, often citing the philosophy of Karl Marx.

Coalitions are where the politics become complicated – especially since the complete government is not comprised of a majority made up of a bipartisan party system in America, like I mentioned before. Put simply, the CDU and FDP relate to each other, and the SPD, die Linke, and the Grüne [The greens – a smaller political party favoring international peace and environmentalism] also share ties. This became a little more complicated as I researched more to understand the current political state of Germany over the past 4 years.

Overall, this post may seem completely confusing already, or just quite frankly boring, but I think that it is important for me, as a student here in Germany during this time of elections, to really work to understand what it going on around me. It allows me to see what issues are truly debated upon here in Germany, and what the people’s values are. To me, it is interesting to see where the relatable American values lie within the beliefs of German political parties, and how they contradict themselves, or completely overlap in regards to social politics or fiscal beliefs. This post is a good reminder for me to strive to be knowledgeable of the political culture around me, and also try and share it – albeit, here in a very generalized and condensed form – with American friends and family back home, so that we can understand what is happening in the world around us as well.