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.

Friday, December 23, 2005

25 Lessons from My Second Year in Germany (So Far)

Hi everyone. This will probably be my last post for 2005, since I don't have internet access at home and the university library will be closed for the next several days.

In case you guys are wondering what I'll be doing for the holidays, rest assured that I won't have to spend them alone. One of the Referendarinnen (student teachers) at my school has invited me to spend Christmas Eve with her family. Although this won't be the same as spending time with own family (who I'll still really miss!), I think it will be very interesting to see a traditional German Christmas celebration. Plus, my friend lives in the Sauerland, one of the few regions in NRW that actually gets snow! (I hope to see some-- that's something I really miss about living over here. A Münsteraner winter is a lot like a very long Michigan November-- cold, damp, grey, and dismal.) I plan to have a small Chanukah party some time next week (with whichever friends and colleagues are able to come), New Year's Eve will be spend with my roommate and her friends, and then in the week after New Year's I hope to travel to the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium.

Now, on to the actual topic of this post. I've made a list of things that I've learned so far this schoolyear. Those of you who've been reading my blog for a while will remember that I did the same thing last January. Consider this both an update and an Ergänzung.

1. Eastern Saxony is NOT representative of Germany as a whole. Most Germans are not xenophobic, racist, mean-spirited or provincial. There are plenty of tolerant, friendly, urbane people here.

2. That being said, German society does have a decidedly anti-American bias. Whenever the US does something barbaric (torturing prisoners of war, executing criminals, etc.), it makes front page news. Good things the US does are in the sixth page of the paper, if they're mentioned at all. Conversely, barbaric things that go on in other Anglophone countries-- like the recent race riots in Australia-- are NOT generally front-page news. Furthermore, while every new misdeed of the Bush administration is cited as an example of how decadent/undemocratic/uncultured the US is, the race riots will not negatively affect Germans' view of Australia (even among those Germans who've heard of them). Yes, the American government (read: the Republican party) has done some heinous things lately, and the criticism is warranted. But it still annoys me to hear something bad about my country every day-- and to go weeks without hearing a single good thing. The current political situation is not an excuse to deny that America has ever done anything good (examples: stopping incipient genocide in Kosovo, preventing the Russians from invading your ass for about 45 years), or to blindly assume to American culture and society have nothing to offer the rest of the world. Nor is it fair to assume that all or even most Americans agree with the policies of the Bush government!

3. American university students have it good. Sure, tuition is about five times as high as it should be, but small class sizes, research opportunities for undergraduates, and professors who aren't on major ego trips are invaluable.

4. Attempting to take six university classes AND teach schoolchildren 12 hours a week is not a good idea.

5. Münster residents are not noted for being outgoing or polite to strangers.

6. I love living in a WG (co-op apartment)! It's nice to have people to talk to (it beats talking to myself or having one-sided arguments with the newscasters on television, like I did last year). Furthermore, my roommates can give me pointers on things to do, which stores carry certain items, the finer points of inscrutable German household appliances, etc. And splitting the rent three ways allows me to live in a much nicer part of town than I could otherwise afford.

7. People in the Ruhrgebiet are very friendly and open (for Germans), but good grief, the cities there are ugly!

8. Teaching high school is definitely not for me. The teaching part itself is enjoyable-- but I would die of a stress-related heart attack after about two years. I admire people who are actually able to do this long-term.

9. Yes, Virginia, there are non-homophobic societies in the world! And it's WONDERFUL.

10. There is something to be said for light-weight Scandinavian furniture, as well as attractive, moderately-priced home accessories. (Yes, I'm talking about IKEA.)

11. Learning a second foreign language through the medium of your first foreign language is quite difficult, unless a. the two languages in question are very closely related (like German and Dutch) and b. you haven't previously studied the second foreign language through your mother tongue.

12. Giving up meat is not a big sacrifice. Even at Thanksgiving! They do the most amazing things with legumes, tofu, wheat protein, and nutritional yeast these days.

13. German sparkling wine does nasty things to me, even if I only drink one glass of it.

14. Riding a bicycle in traffic is easier than it looks.

15. Most children under the age of about 12 cannot understand irony. (Note: this also explains why the other girls in my Brownie troop never got my jokes.)

16. If you want to freak out a Westphalian, give them a vivid description of Michigan winter weather conditions (complete with average snow fall and wind chill factor).

17. No, filing graduate school applications does not necessarily get any easier just because you've successfully done it before...

18. Unless you're an alcoholic or a drug addict, you may want to avoid the park directly behind Münster's main train station.

19. I'd be happier if I had a dog :(

20. I actually like Jane Austen novels (who would have thought)?

21. Fifth and sixth graders are cheerful and winsome. Twelfth and thirteenth graders are surprisingly mature and rational. But seventh through eleventh graders are ticking hormone bombs and are best left to the professionals.

22. I do not deal well with the long winter nights typical of northern latitudes.

23. Germany is the only country in the world in which every retiree doubles as a plain-clothes police officer. If you don't believe me, just try crossing the street on red (when there's no traffic in either direction), or slowly and cautiously riding your bicycle on the sidewalk for a few yards (because the bike lane ended abruptly).

24. Technologically, I'm so far behind the times that I may as well go Amish.

25. No matter how long you've lived abroad, if you unexpectedly bang your shin against something, you will still curse in your first language.


Blogger christina said...

Wow, you really summed it up! I like it when people are honest about what it's like to be a foreigner living in Germany.

Hope you enjoy your holidays!

2:55 PM  
Blogger Ada said...

Christina-- thanks for your comment.

To the other person who left a 'comment' that was really an advertisement-- note that I have DELETED it. Once more, I would like to remind readers that unsolicited advertisements WILL be deleted from my blog.

Thank you.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ada,

once again: graet to read!


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Blogger christina said...

Hi Ada! If you choose the "word verification" option in your comments section, it's harder for the spammers to get in.

The comment before this one is also spam, I believe. I've seen this guy around before.

Happy New Year to you!

2:54 PM  
Blogger Prairie Girl said...

Hi Ada,

A great piece of writing. And Christina's right, it is really good to read an honest view of what it's like to be a stranger in a strange land.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha HA HA about the lesson 25. I've lived abroad in Italy 3 years. Today a garbage bag broke on me and all my trash fell on the floor. A big, bad, English curse word came out of mouth. It felt good too.

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Blogger Ada said...

Hi everyone--

Sorry I've been a lazy ass both about blogging and about responding to comments lately. I'll do my best to be better this year.

Felix-- Thanks! I'll try to have more posts up soon.

Prairie Girl-- Thanks!

J.Doe-- It really is true, isn't it? Occasionally, when I'm MILDLY annoyed, I will curse in German. But when the emotion is visceral, it's always in English. Interestingly, speakers of minority languages who don't otherwise get to use their mother tongues much will also suddenly start speaking them in anger. The phenomenon is quite well-documented.

Harry-- I believe you're SPAM, but for the record, red wine gives me headaches, and French wines in general are too acidic for my taste.

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