Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Name:
Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Tale of the C-Test Troll

(With apologies to the Brothers Grimm.)

Long ago and far away in the land of Münster there was a large university where many students attended classes. One of these students was named 'Ada.' Ada was from a far-away country called 'America' where people spoke a strange language called 'English.' This meant that Ada spoke German with a peculiar intonation and had difficulty pronouncing the word 'rechts.' However, she understood German very well. Despite the fact that she was a foreigner, she could read Goethe in the original German without trouble. Despite the fact that she was an American, she did not eat hamburgers or carry a gun on her person.

The Uni-Münster had a Sprachenzentrum (Language Center) where its students could take classes in any of several foreign languages, including English, German as a second language, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Turkish, and Arabic. Ada thought that it might be fun to pick up Italian again. So she journeyed over many cobblestone streets through the land of Münster, past many strange creatures in designer clothes (chiefly civil servants on their lunch breaks, but also the occasional unicorn or talking pig-- this is a fairy tale, after all), and wended her way to the Sprachenzentrum for a C-Test. The C-Test was a test of will that Uni-Münster subjected its students to before they could register for language classes. It involved computers and hand-to-hand combat with a troll.

The university in Münster employed many trolls. There was a troll in the library who barked at Ada for omitting her postal code on her library card application form, and who insisted on addressing her in 'Auslanderdeutsch'* even though she understood normal German. There was the office worker in the Dutch department who called Ada 'du' and gave her the third degree when she asked whether all the places in the Dutch I course had been filled yet. It seemed that Uni-Münster believed that dealing with trolls built students' character.

The most fearsome troll of all administered the C-Test.

It was a small troll, only about five feet tall. It had brown hair and wore a cross pendant, and looked like it might have been around 25 years old. The troll's appearance was not ugly, but its personality was hideous.

Ada huddled with the other students in a corridor outside the C-Test Chamber. She waited until the troll beckoned her into the chamber, along with four other students.

The first test was to produce a student ID card and register for the test. Ada did not have an ID card-- the university hadn't sent it to her yet. 'If you don't have an ID card, then that means you aren't registered at the university and you don't have a student number yet!' barked the troll (in German). 'My student number is here,' said Ada, producing her registration papers. The troll glowered and pointed Ada to a computer where she was to sit and insert Italian words into newspaper articles. As she did so, she kept one ear on the C-Test troll, who ritually humiliated each of the other students in turn.

Ada received 49 out of 100 points on her Italian test. The troll's human assistant printed a certificate for her and said 'Go next door, where my colleague can advise you further.' Ada was sent on to the Second Chamber of C-Test Torture, where she met...

The original troll from the other room. (It appears that Uni-Münster is rather short-staffed.) The troll pointed her to another computer. But Ada didn't know which course she should sign up for.

'I need to register, and...'

'You don't need to register! You've already taken the test,' snapped the troll.

'I meant to register for classes, and I don't know which level to sign up for. The lady next door said you could provide advice.'

The troll glared. 'I don't do academic advising here. Everything you need to know is on the website.'

So Ada sat down and scanned through the web site. Try as she might, she couldn't find anything that told her what kind of class someone who had scored 49 points should sign up for.

Meanwhile, another student had entered the Second Chamber of C-Test Torture. This young woman had very short hair and a friendly countenance. Unsuspecting, she bent down to whisper a question to the C-Test Troll. Said troll recoiled as if the young woman was a poisonous snake, and made a disgusted face.

Ada decided it was better not to ask the troll how to use the website. So she whispered her question to a law student who had made conversation with her in the hall.

'I already told you,' shouted the troll, 'that you don't need to register for the test, you've already taken it!'

'I know,' said Ada. Ada raised her voice and spoke slowly, as if to a mentally handicapped toddler. 'I want to know how to determine which level I should sign up for. I can't find the information on the web site.'

'I can't tell you which level to register for!'

'YES. I KNOW. THAT'S WHY I ASKED THE OTHER STUDENTS WHAT PART OF THE WEB SITE DEALS WITH THAT.'

The law student gave Ada the 'thumbs-up' sign behind the troll's back.

Cowed, the troll sat down and calmly showed Ada to the pertinent information.

Having vanquished the evil C-Test-Troll, Ada left the Sprachenzentrum and went back into Münster, where she bought some cheese at the market and lived happily ever after. And the troll went back where she belonged. (Under a bridge near the Open Air Museum, where she subsists on billy goats and lost tourists.)


*A kind of pidgin-German chiefly spoken by those native speakers of German who assume that all foreigners are stupid. It involves calling people 'du' (a form of address usually reserved for close friends, children, and animals) and putting all verbs in the infinitive.

12 Comments:

Anonymous kimberly said...

...is teaching still fun?

1:51 AM  
Blogger Eddie said...

Hey Ada,

I know what are you talking about! I have studied in Münster as well... I know how offending some Mitarbeiter at some Universitätseinrichtungen can be. Be especially equipped for trolls from 'Prüfungsamt'. They are the worst. Believe me!

That's one of the lessons German universities have to learn: be friendly to the students. It might change if the students have to pay the tuition fees...

Enjoy your time in Münster! Ich lese immer sehr gern deine Beiträge, um meine Englischkenntnisse aufzubessern. Und mir werden auch oft kulturelle Unterschiede zw. USA und Deutschland durch deine Beiträge vor Augen geführt. Keep it up! Würde mich natürlich freuen öfter was lesen zu können. :)

Cheer up!

Eddie, a former University of Münster student.

2:39 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

As another former Uni Muenster exchange student I can sympathize.... Northern Germans can definitely be trollish, especailly at the university. After a few weeks in Bavaria I'm still adjusting to meeting Germans who actually smile at me!

9:43 AM  
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2:54 PM  
Blogger Ada said...

Hi everyone--

Kimberly-- Yep, teaching is still fantastic. I love my new school! I've been really busy lately (transitioning to actually teaching from observing, moving to Münster, starting Uni) but I'll try to write to you soon.

Eddie-- Ok, I'll try to post more often. :) Once I get settled in my new apartment and at the uni, I should have more time to blog. Part of the reason my entries have been sparse lately is that I've only had internet access at work-- and of course I have tons of other things to do here! I'll try to avoid the Prüfungsamt trolls.

Anne-- Germans who smile at strangers? Amazing! No wonder the Bavarians consider themselves part of a separate country! By the way, how's TA-ing going?

MLCS-- Go ahead and post the link. I'm glad you liked my blog, even though it has nothing to do with wood-working!

10:38 AM  
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12:08 AM  
Blogger Ada said...

Explain 'off-base.'

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1:44 PM  
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3:24 AM  
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