Thursday, November 5, 2009

Familie Wochenende pt.2

[ Family Weekend pt. 2 ]

Sunday afternoon continued my family weekend with my new host family - the Sebode Family - and we were going to take a little Ausflug - a little excursion together. A little over a half hour outside of Göttingen lies rolling hills, fields and little villages - This is the very center of Germany after all! In the distance, one of the hills had another small collection of houses and buildings, all looking typically German, and a very cool castle tower seen prominently from the far view.

Some of the buildings looked familiar in style to me, but others looked a little older - a little more worn even. Even being only a few minutes outside of Göttingen, we had crossed the border of what used to be Eastern Germany - and Inge told me how in some ways you can still see the lingering differences between the sides. In this situation, it was houses that were very weathered and a bit crumbling, but neighbored by very well kept houses and new buildings.

Once parked, we walked our way up the hill to tour the very cool castle dating back to the early centuries in the Roman style and it was still remarkably very much intact. I always love seeing the different rooms of castles, the dark, cold hallways that connected the rooms built of stone - seeing the places where corners could only be lit by torches. It is all really exciting for the imagination.

The tower and steps out to the balconies of the castle were very windy, but you were still able to get some very impressive views. I had some laughs with Inge and Andreas since many castles in this region of Germany are often connected to stories from the Brothers Grimm. This particular castle did not have a story, but apparently the tale of Sleeping Beauty was inspired in another castle not too far away!

What was a fascinating story however, was that from the Castle, into the trees, there was actually a visible line where there was a cut in the forest and that turned out to be the old border between the once divided Germany. Andreas shared with me how crazy it is to him that as a child he saw this castle from another hill on hikes with his parents and couldn't visit it, but now there is no thought of a border anymore. These are all interesting to me, especially with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall coming up next week as well.

Wrapping up the day we had lunch together of some typical northern German sausages and breads and it turned out to be another very nice opportunity to get to know each other and involve myself in conversation with them in German as much as I can.

Familie Wochenende

[ Family Weekend ]

October has already come and gone [ as well as an almost nonexistent Halloween ], but for me it was a very hectic month with a lot of changes. Over the past weeks I left Saarbrücken, started University in Göttingen, had a few bumps in the road finalizing my permanent host family placement [ so I utilized that limbo time without a family before school started to go to Poland instead of staying in a hostel], and amongst all the rapid changes, moving, and dragging of suitcases the entire month, I now have myself a bed to call my own [ well almost ] at the Ratke-Sebode household.

Things have been busy and transitions are never easy, so over the past week and a half, the topic of introducing my living situation and family has been a little neglected; but I am quickly catching up with all the events. Thinking back to my previous experiences in Japan and Finland, I realized that with the small exception while in Finland, when I moved in with the Kiukkonen family for one week to experience the end of the FUSYE program in Helsinki, this has been the first time that I have really uprooted myself from one host family - in two months I became very close with the Weber family - and had to unpack and really integrate myself into a new family and community - all of course after almost an entire month of kind of feeling like a vagabond [ and starting University auf Deutsch as well!].

The Sebode family lives not too south from the Neues Rathaus, and the main part of campus is a little north from the center of downtown, so with a bike I am in a nice placement within Göttingen to get around.

Since I spent my weekdays being really busy still finalizing which curriculum I wanted to take, I really saw my new host parents only in the mornings and evenings - so with all of our busy schedules we set aside the weekend as a family weekend to really get to know each other, which I thought was a nice idea.

On Saturday as Inge prepared dinner, I went out and played a game of pool at a local sports bar with Andreas and we caught some of the soccer game which was very enjoyable. Back at the house, with some Jazz music in the background, we had a very fun, hands on dinner that was Swiss in origin and involved grilling meats, vegetables and a layer of cheese all together at the table - like a backwards fondue. Some photo albums were pulled out and I brought out my laptop and we shared some pictures together.

For the majority of this year, it will just be me with my two new host parents - They have a son who is my age, but he is actually in Japan for this half of the year, and around Christmas time will be home for just a few days since he will utilize the second part of his year to study in South America - an exciting year to experience two continents, which I think is great! They also have a daughter that is currently studying in Paris as an Erasmus student. So the house has the feel as if there are young adults around, but it is really just me for now. I sent Moritz an email online excitedly asking about Tokyo, and also a thank you for letting me use his room.

Inge and Andreas were both teachers in the past - Andreas in German and Inge in English, Latin and French - so I have a huge opportunity to really work and build up a better understanding and comprehension of German with them. Now Inge is actually also taking some courses for herself at the same University that I am, and Andreas has a very cool organic produce shop in the middle of town that I will be sure to visit more than a few times.

As with all introductions, getting to know each other starts slow, and has its bumps of cultural misunderstandings, but I think I can finally start to settle in and orientate myself with Göttingen as my new home. November is now here, and I don't know if I am more scared that I have 3/4 left of this year to experience, or more surprised that 1/4 is already done - it has been stressful and challenging, but I think these challenges can only be good for me - there is still a lot to experience and learn.


As intimidating as it may be, trying new things, joining new clubs and meeting new people are all things that I wanted to do [ and sometimes when times are low, things I tell myself I should do] while experiencing this year abroad in Germany.

Sports were no different, and I knew that joining the University gym and sports center I would be able to meet students at the university and also try out a new sport.

Back in the stages of applying to come to Germany, I listed the sport of handball under things I would like to experience while abroad.

I didn't know anything about the sport then, and walking into the gym at 8 pm on a Monday night for the first free-session here at the university, I didn't know it on that evening either.

In fact, I had never even seen handball played on TV. From the Olympics [ yes Americans, handball is an Olympic sport - our channels just don't show it] I had seen pictures of men looking like they were going to slam dunk the palm sized ball into the goal keeper, but I had no idea about the rules - not even how many players on the court played at one time.

I silently slid into the back of the crowd hoping that some rules were going to be discussed - albeit in German - but it didn't seem like it was going to happen. Even being the non-experienced player free-play session, it still seemed that everyone had a little more experience than me.

Everyone counted off by Eins and Zwei and when it came to me I said Zwei - only to hear - nur Mädchen... only girls were counting. I was so embarrassed that I didn't even realize that and I retracted my head like a turtle amongst a few snickers around me.

There were several dozens of students in the gym, so it seemed like a popular weekly event, and when the introductions were complete, everyone grabbed the handballs and started running around. I didn't know if it was just a scrimmage starting or what not - I just knew what team I was on.

I have drawn a paint diagram of what the gym was set up as when we started playing - 4 boxes, and 8 cones that served as 4 "gates" or goals.

Players began passing, throwing, bouncing - counting their 3 steps - weaving through the cones and dropping the balls in the boxes. There were probably over 40 people on the court... what was going on? What are the rules to this sport?

[ a representation of what it looked like when the whistle blew and this "game" began.]

I had NO idea what was going on. If I was passed the ball - just like my years of playing basketball in grade school - I was a champ at immediately flinging the pass somewhere else.

When asking one of the Germans, humiliated, what was going on, I realized that I completely lacked the vocabulary at this time for sports - words taken for granted like pass, shoot, dribble, score... I knew how to say run and throw... but it was not enough to learn and question the rules of a new sport.

What I did learn was that this "game" was nothing like the real sport of Handball - it was just a passing drill that had some point system to it for competitiveness. This just proved that I came knowing absolutely nothing about the game.

After some more drills - and more failed attempts at trying to understand the rapid German instructions of the rules - some scrimmages finally began.

Maybe because I was kind of quiet during the drills, maybe because I wasn't already at the session with a group of friends, perhaps because some of the players witnessed and knew that I could only be a detriment to the team - I felt like the last kid picked [ teams were more divided up, but still, I felt like a straggler ] .

I may have been one of the quick kids, but you can run all you want over the court - if you don't know where to run, or what to do with the ball... you are useless.

I learned the sport through trial and error - having the whistle blown on me for taking one too many steps, or passing with two hands - but I was picking it up quickly. It was much like how I would learn the German language, just try saying or do something and learn from your mistakes. At least it was fun and the student there were very nice [ and understanding that Americans have generally no clue about this sport ].

I would not say that the hour and a half sports session was a failure - but it was probably more stressful for me than the other players there just for fun. I will continue to try handball on Mondays and from there learn the rules better and then post some new opinions about the sport as the weeks go on.

Deutsch als Fremdsprache

[ German as a Second Language ]

After waiting a few days to see the results of the Deutsch Einstufungstest, I had grown skeptical and braced myself to start over from ground one again with the language.

I scanned my finger down the lists posted on the wall

Grundstufe 1

Grundstufe 2

Grundstufe 3

Grundstufe 4....

where is my name?

and there it was listed in the alphabetical order list under Mittelstufe 1.

I am in intermediate German?! I passed out of 4 semesters - 2 entire years - of the University's German as a Second Language classes... after two and a half months of studying?

The previous days had been pretty pressing on my self confidence and I was beginning to lose faith in my ability to continue learning German, but this was a little boost to say the least.

I decided to join two different German classes - Situational Discussion and German Grammar [ since I haven't even learned the Genative case yet...]

The classes themselves were another wake up call, however. The room was as international as the welcome weekend and everyone had different accents with their German - however, being a discussion class, we were handed situations on a paper, and we were let loose to discuss -


Everyone around me started flowing into conversation and I was rapidly skimming through my dictionary for Lebensversicherung - which turned out to be life insurance...

We are talking about Life Insurance ?

Obviously I had my work cut out for me struggling to participate in a classroom of students that have been exposed to German for longer than a year or two already.

The next day in the first recitation of my biweekly German Grammar seminar we did a seemingly simple exercise where we told our partner without pictures the setup of our bedrooms.

Easier said than done in German since prepositions can change the case of the word and this becomes a jumbled mess when you have to deal with the gender of the words and der, die, das.

If you want to talk about a table, no problem - it is masculine - der Tisch , but then it changes in different cases -

Legen Sie das Buch auf den Tisch. (accusative)
Put/Lay the book
on the table. (motion towards)
Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch. (dative)
The book's lying
on the table. (location)

ok, simple enough. You just have to learn that der becomes den in Akkusativ and dem in Dativ, just some memorization...

but then the femanine die ... becomes der in the Dativ??? but wasn't der maskulin?

Not only must you learn in German the gender of words - often just memorization since there are few, if any at times, traits to follow in the words - but you must also correctly utilize the gender in the case or else you can change the meaning of the sentence.

Gone are my days of making everything plural to make the article always die [ but wait, wasn't that the feminine article]... I rest my case.

German will be making my head spin [ and making me afraid to be called on in class!] for the rest of the year it seems.

[ I am not always smiling like this guy after one of my German classes ]