Monday, October 19, 2009

Zweiten Tag vom Einführungswochenende

[ Second day of the Introduction Weekend ]

The second day of Einführungswochenende began once again with a division of everyone into small groups. A basket of colored pieces of paper went around and we were supposed to pick one – I took purple again – I may have said that I was getting by with my German… but that doesn’t mean that I always knew what was going on… I chose purple because that was my color the day before… no one that was in my group on Friday was there Saturday… regardless if I followed directions or not, I had a new group with some new people to meet.

After a few powerpoint presentations of the large array of opportunities offered at the Uni, the groups split apart. I was happy to see that by coincidence both Kumiko and Tommi were in my group as well as some new fellow classmates to meet from China, Russia and Nicaragua.

The task at hand was to complete a scavenger hunt around the downtown area with many questions and answers. Everything from the directions to the questions was in German and during our tour it evolved into this efficiency scale:

  • Finland and Russia: did all the work.
  • China and Japan: not as good German skills as Finland and Russia, but knew their way around town after being in Göttingen for a week.
  • America and Nicaragua: Virtually useless.

Maria – Nicaragua – and I could only laugh. When the German instructions or questions about a historical significance of some architecture of a church in the city came up… we could only blankly stare. Even though we could only communicate to each other in the bad German that we had, it was apparent to both of us that we were like the lucky kids in class that was paired up with the smart kid for a project. Yessss!

Even so, our group had a very enjoyable time walking around for the entire afternoon and chatting about random things, like the 2008 Olympics in China, or what typical food is in Nicaragua [ Maria shrugged and laughed - rice and beans ]. After visiting many landmarks like Jakobikirche or the Neue Rathaus, the scavenger hunt was done, and the next part of the project was to create a skit to present later. The objective was to reenact something that might be difficult to transition to as a foreign student at the Uni in Germany.

Our group found a very cool pub restaurant to sit down for lunch with some typical German food – big portions, lots of meat and potatoes – and had a chance to chat some more and work on our project. The seemingly simple objectives – draw a picture of your group representing your nationalities, and make a skit of the cultural oddities in Germany – turned into a déjà vu of planning our Internationalabends back in August with the Americans. What was strange for one person, was normal for the next.

I said that it was weird for me sitting at the restaurant and not getting a glass of tap water gratis and the fact that I had to pay… *looks at menu* - 1.7 Euros for some carbonated water?! Finland and Russia didn’t seem fazed. Kumiko said that Sauna culture baffled her – then the group laughed realizing that Tommi, from Finland, was sitting right there. One thing that we were able to agree on was the frustration of having shops closed on Sundays in Germany [ but you can still find all the bars open… ]. We decided to write our skit about that, and I voluntarily took the most amount of lines as the new American confused about why the town is deserted on Sunday – I felt that it was obligatory after my lackluster performance with the scavenger hunt!

[The Group, from left to right: Finland, Japan, America, China, Russia, Nicaragua]

I butchered the grammar later in the day, but it was still fun to perform. As for the picture, summarizing any nation in a little box is hard. America resulted with the Declaration of Independence and the statue of liberty [ well it kind of looked like her…]. The other nations had a difficult time too – matryoshka dolls for Russia, a volcano for Nicaragua… Finland… Tommi drew Santa on skis! Whereas all the activities seemed simple and redundant we began to learn through the experiences that they were forcing us to be a little more introspective about our national identities at the same time as learning about others.


[ Introduction Weekend ]

I am beaming right now. Today has been great – exhausting, overwhelming, but compared to yesterdays hecticness, truly a lot of fun. I just returned from my first day of my Einführungswochende which is my introduction weekend for foreign exchange students at Georg August Universität Göttingen.

Yesterday I went to bed completely exhausted feeling a little belittled wondering how I was going to make it through the rest of the year. My first day in Göttingen had been filled with so much confusing paperwork, big German words, and a realization that I still had a ton of German to learn and I felt defeated as if communicating with the students in the school around me was going to be very difficult for my first few weeks.

I woke up very early the next morning to get ready and venture into the city again to make sure that I was prompt for the Einführungswochenende. The funny thing is that the check in started at 9:30… not the actual event. I was there at 9:15… meaning that I was early and had quite a bit of awkward waiting to do. Many people were trickling in for the sign-in and I anxiously sat watching each person come in that probably was already fluent in German. No one really talked in the beginning, it was really just awkward staring.

After a quick introduction, everyone was split up into small groups based on their department in the school. I followed everyone with purple name tags, and everyone looked around confused as to what was going on and where we were walking to. I asked one girl in German if she knew where we were walking to meet, and she turned and choked a laugh and replied in a thick Romanian accent, “hell, lets learn German later, I don’t know what the heck is going on here.”

I became a little more relaxed, a lot of us were in the same situation. Many of the students were from other European countries through the Erasmus program, a very common university exchange opportunity in Europe. I actually got the full spectrum of how diverse just my group was when we did a little ice breaker before starting. We had to make a human map and stand where our respective country lied in regards to North South East and West. It was actually really cool since to the South of me stood some South American girls, then to my east stood Western Europeans that blended into Slavic Europeans and then into Asians.

The girl that started was blond and north of me… probably Swedish. Then she started talking. Hallo, Ich bin Maria aus Finnland – complete with the little Finnish accented bounce in her syllables. This is where I began to realize just how cool this international intro weekend was. We were all young college students, many for the first time in Germany, and starting brand new at this University. Some had very good German, others had practically nothing. What I loved, however, was hearing German in so many different accents – Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Finnish and many others including my American accent thrown into the mix.

We all began our tour around the downtown area which is actually really cute and very much a college town. At that time I had a chance to go say hello to Maria and after a bit of chatting I found out that she was from Turku – or I should say she was very surprised that I knew where Turku was, let alone the fact that I had lived there. Our group continued to walk around the city and see many of the landmarks and university buildings around. Being a small European town and a University town, it is inevitable that Göttingen has many bikes parked all over. What I was surprised to learn, however, is that a person can get a hefty 50 Euro ticket if they are caught riding their bike the opposite direction on a one way street. That’s right – one way streets for bikes.

After the lengthy tour with many cool sites that I hope to update with later, all the groups merged together at the Mensa, which is the University’s [ called an Uni here in Germany ] cafeteria. Having worked at the dining hall at UofM, the Mensa was really nothing too different for me in terms of its set up. What is a little different is the fact that, at Georg-August, students load money onto their “chip-cards,” – our student id’s – and essentially buy items ala-carte. The lunches were surprisingly cheap, since, as a student, one can purchase a complete lunch for less than 3 Euros.

Later in the day, everyone met back up at the international foyer for an afternoon Kaffe und Kuchen – coffee and cake. It was there that many groups of people began intermixing once more and it was a chance to meet more people. While in line for coffee I noticed Maria talking to another tall, blond guy, and then I caught their conversation loaded with vowels and trilling R’s – another Finn?! This was where I met Tommi, another Finnish student who came from Juvaskula, Finland. We sat down in the same circle of chairs and began to get to know each other. What I really enjoyed most about the international events was that everyone had a drive to speak German. The levels ranged from almost a decade of studying the language to “Hallo, ich heisse …” but regardless, I thought it was cool to have German serve as a second language for everyone. It was actually the first time I have spoken to someone where both of us are using a second language to communicate and that realization excited me.

I also came to learn during the day that I came with a lot of unexpected surprises for others. While sitting at the table for coffee with Tommi I began to meet some of my neighbors – Spain, Turkey, Nicaragua – and the I received some raised eyebrows that I am only 19 – definitely the youngest of the bunch with only a few people younger than 22, since many of the Erasmus students were upper level university or working towards higher degrees. This was on top of the fact that I also wasn't Erasmus [ the very common European exchange program ] and one of the unique, and few, Americans.

When discussing with Tommi what I studied I mentioned that I hoped to find a Japanese course at the Uni just for fun and continue my studies with that language. That was when he turned to his neighbor who had her back turned to us, and then she introduced herself as Kumiko from Yokohama, Japan – A Finnish person and a Japanese person both at my table?! We went back and forth with a few Japanese sentences and that caught the attention across the table from one of the Spanish girls and she actually busted out laughing. She was so shocked by what she had just witnessed – I guess that fact that an American just randomly speaks Japanese amongst the background noise of struggling German – that she didn’t really know how to react.

This obviously turned into a conversation piece at the table with different languages being discussed since for many, German was the 3rd or 4th foreign language instead of second. There were students that had studied German for upwards of 4-5 years, and I surprised myself that I was keeping up and really integrated in the conversations. I suppose that became the real jaw dropper, because when I answered two months to the question of how long I have studied, some would correct me and say – oh you mean two years.

No, no, two months.


I can’t help but admit that the fact that I surprised people with so many things was a good feeling. Earlier when the day began I was so afraid that I was going to be so out of place and out of my league beginning studies at a German university, but, whereas I have a lot to still practice and learn, my first very exciting day of the international-einfürungswochenende had me realize that I have experienced some incredible opportunities that have led me to learn neat languages and very interesting people.


[ Bureaucracy ]

A while back in the early days of the language school I remember walking home from class and playing around with my cell phone. I was experimenting with the calendar feature and began to plug in special dates of the year to beep in as a reminder as the dates arrived. A month and a half goes by and I am in Göttingen finding my way around town.

I have come to learn through experience that Germany has a ridiculous amount of registration and paperwork standards. Moving to Göttingen was stressful since it was a new home and I had to drag my overloaded luggage around once more and meander around with some German vocabulary I was checking the dictionary for. I actually had a “tutor”, a student from the University, to assist me with all the city registration, and thank goodness that I had her around.

Typical me, however, of course had to get lost on the first day – even with a map in hand, and had to call up Katharine – my tutor – to let her know that I don’t think I would make it to the meeting point in 2 minutes to meet at 10:30. I had somehow walked 15 minutes south… the campus is north… which made be probably close to a half hour away. She laughed on the phone – for good reason since I later learned that the city really isn’t that big – and she told me to stay where I was at that part of campus and she would meet me there. So I was lost and then it began to rain – no, pour …

Then my phone starts beeping… is it Katharine again?

Beep beepWelcome to Göttingen! Beep Beep

It was my calendar of Events… welcome… lost and in the rain…

Life is funny like that.

On Thursday, I spent the entire day walking around Göttingen taking care of different registration documents at the University office, international student office, and the Neue Rathaus – the city head office. Einfürungswochenende, Krankenversicherung, Obligatorischer-Einstufungstest... – I didn’t know what was going on… the only thing I knew was that there was a lot of huge German words, and a lot of paperwork to complete. I don’t know how many times I had to show my passport – heck, I even had to show my passport to get a cell phone earlier this year in this country.

Health insurance forms, visas, proof of residency in Göttingen, proof of scholarship to study in Germany, am I married, what is my mother’s maiden name… why do they need to know my mom’s maiden name?

The day wasn’t the best. I will admit that the city seems like it is really nice and the university has a lot of facilities, but for my first day stress was the main thing on my mind. At night I had a headache just from the large amounts of German I had tried to manage during the day. I had to get some sleep however, since the next morning – no time for breaks – was already the introduction weekend for international students at the school. It sounded to me like more stress and information Auf Deutsch to keep up with. We will see how this university phase plays out.