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.)

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.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Breaking the Silence

OK, I know I haven't written in a really really long time. As usual, my excuse is just that I've simply been too busy. Here's the update:

-I got into all three graduate programs I applied to. All offered me funding, but the amounts vary (of course). However, while that will be playing a role in my decision, it isn't everything.

-Two weeks ago I spent five days in the US visiting one of those three programs. On Friday I'm flying out again to visit another one. (They're paying for my travel expenses. Otherwise, there's no way I could go!) I hope to make my final decision while I'm out there. Since the deadline is April 15th, that will be cutting it a bit close!

Now I suppose I should (briefly) explain the American grad school application process, since there is nothing like it in Germany:

'Graduate school' refers to anything about a Bachelor's degree (the degree that most US college graduates earn-- for us it takes 4 years). In my case it refers to a Ph.D. program. However, since I do not yet have a Master's degree, I'll have to earn one of those first. Doing the coursework for the Master's degree will take 2 years. After that, I will have two years of coursework for the Ph.D., followed by about 2 years of writing my dissertation. Grand total: 6 years. A difference between the US and German systems: since graduate study takes longer in the US, you are not required to know your dissertation topic upon entering. I'll have about 3-4 years to figure that out. However, you do need to know what subject you want to study: you apply directly to the department or program, not to the university.

Applying to grad school is a lot like applying for a job. Unlike in Germany, where you just need a decent grade point average (from the Master's/Magister level) and the support of a sponsoring professor (Doktormutter/Doktorvater) to earn a Ph.D., in the US it is quite difficult to be accepted to grad school. Also, it is considered 'normal' to do your undergraduate and graduate work at two different universities.

The graduate school application process includes:

-Taking a 3-hour (or so) standardized test called the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), which tests knowledge in writing, mathematics, and English. Depending on what you want to study, you may also have to complete additional GRE subject tests. (I took care of the GRE back when I was in the US.)

-Writing a resume/curriculum vitae-- it's expected that you should have won scholarships and awards or presented research as an undergraduate, and you need to document that.

-You need three letters of recommendation from professors who worked with you as an undergraduate.

-You also need to write a Statement of Purpose: basically, an essay describing not only why you are well-suited to attend graduate school, but also why you think that the particular program you're applying to is right for you.

The programs pick and choose which applicants they want to accept-- they aren't required to accept all candidates who meet certain minimum qualifications. In addition, there is the question of funding: Not everyone who is accepted is offered financial support. Without an offer of financial support, you have to pay for tuition yourself (easily $20,000 a year). If you are offered financial support, you are exempt from paying tuition and also receive a small stipend (about $8-$18,000 a year) on which to support yourself. In return, you usually teach undergraduates or serve as a research assistant for a professor.

The point of visiting the programs is to see whether you fit into the department and get along with the people you want to work with. In general, American students have a LOT more contact with their professors than German students do, so it's important to make sure there wouldn't be major personality conflicts.

So, that's what applying to grad school is about, and why it's been eating up all my time and prevented me from blogging for the past two months!

In other news, I'm going to see Brokeback Mountain with my roommates today. Dubbed into German, which will be really weird. Especially since I read the original short story by Annie Proulx (in English, of course-- it's quite good, incidentally) so I have expectations about what Jack and Ennis are supposed to sound like. Hopefully they at least did a decent job translating the dialogue. I dislike dubbing. Why can't the Germans just use subtitles, the way the Dutch do? And might this extra exposure to English have something to do with the fact that the average Dutch person speaks better English than the average German does?

I'll try to write again soon. But probably not til I'm back from the Midwest.


Anonymous kimberly said...

how long will you be in the states, and when do you return for your graduate program? will you be in europe in july/august? i might be in spain, and if so, i would plan to visit france and holland and would also like to visit you in germany. take care!

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