Getting Started with Studying Abroad

Dear readers,

I would like to discuss “studying abroad” for American college students.

Studying abroad is a rich experience to undergo during your college years. The first time abroad is life- changing. You see yourself and your native culture with different eyes. You get to experience everyday life of those who live thousands of miles away from your native country and listen to new languages. You also get to see, firsthand, the wonders of the world–whether it be something historical in a city or a gorgeous landscape.

But studying abroad isn’t cheap. It also isn’t easy. It requires thought, decision-making, and planning. Your approach and attitude truly change how you perceive your time abroad. You should pick the right country for the right reasons. Everyone is different, so you have to decide what the “right reasons” for you are.

Your internal reasons for studying in that place should outweigh the external reasons.

What do I mean exactly? Your reasons for traveling to Germany are: because you have a German girlfriend/boyfriend, you like the German language and you want to ski in the Alps. International relationships can be very interesting and fulfilling, but if that’s your only reason for traveling abroad, your time there may be very challenging and frustrating since you do not have a personal connection with the country itself.

But when you are also interested in the country because of its language & culture and you have travel goals, the trip will feel much closer to your heart. How much you enjoy it will depend on your attitude (and maybe the weather and people around you) but you’ll feel more of connection with the place when there’s something inside of you that brings you there.

 

However, I must admit: sometimes you just have to start somewhere. Everyone must be bad at something before they can be good at it. A new experience may give you the motivation to start an entirely new chapter in your life… And I want to share my story with you.

The first time I traveled to Germany seems like so long ago. And I’ve changed in so many ways since then. Although every day wasn’t perfect… I wasn’t so outgoing and definitely didn’t have an idea what learning and speaking a second language meant, I experienced being abroad for the first time and had some encouraging, fun experiences.

The first program I did was not connected to my university in any way and it was open for all people—not just college students. I pretty much found it by chance. It’s an easy story to tell so I will start from the beginning:

I knew that I wanted to learn how to speak German so I decided to start courses at Goethe Institute Atlanta. While browsing their website, I also read that they offered classes in many German cities for international learners of German language. I can’t remember exactly what was on my mind then but I decided that I wanted to take a course in Germany to speed up my German learning and see the country for the first time. I did have some unrealistic expectations though.. thinking that four weeks would be enough to have me speaking the language. There were certain days where I held some conversations but I still spoke a lot of English. I also didn’t study intensively or use everyday interactions to practice the language.

What I gained from that experience was that I left my native country for the first time. I had my first experiences navigating to new places, using public transportation, and buying food from different places. I also met many international people. I changed time zones. I didn’t have any air conditioning. I used a new currency. That was June- July 2015.

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There are a few other things I want to share about that time that maybe be insightful for you: First will be about the language school I attended. Second will be a specific experience I wrote about during the time. And before sharing my second time abroad, I will include a few more things that stand out to me about my first time in Germany.

The Language School

 

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The reasons I chose the location I did were as following: I wanted to be in a city near the place my grandmother was from. I wanted an apartment with WiFi. I wanted the apartment location to be close to the school so that I could go by foot. And this school even had a cafeteria, where I had breakfast and lunch. Apart from that, the prices were good. The city seemed cozy and inviting. And although it was small, it seemed like there would be enough activities to stay busy and have fun.

I remember everything seeming like it was going really fast—at the airport and at the train station. And I thought Germany was absolutely beautiful. I loved looking at the countryside while riding on the train. I didn’t feel far away from home but I definitely felt American. Europe had a different flair than USA. It felt more serious, more competitive, and more elegant. It wasn’t the first time I had feelings of being critical about my native country and native culture, but it became much more obvious for me. It seemed most Europeans were cosmopolitan and multilingual. Nobody made me feel bad for being American. In fact, even though I was shy, I had an open heart and was curious, so many people reached out to me and I had a great time.

I shared a bedroom so it would be cheaper. We had a private shower and toilet. In the basement of our place was a shared kitchen for the building. My roommate ended up being another American girl who had some experience traveling in Germany already and was going to stay in Austria for a year. We weren’t the best of friends but we got along well enough. She showed me where the supermarket and other things in town were. And she was part of a bigger group with whom I spent a lot of time.

Getting to Germany was a big step. But the language school was helpful with getting us students there and situated. There was a bus waiting for us at the train station to drop us off at the school. Once at the school, we received information about our accommodations and were able to drop our bags off. We also did an interview as part of the placement test. Since it was already late, the actual written test was the on the next day. So I ended up showing up to my class once it had already started. No big deal except no English was allowed!! That was understandable since we were a classroom full of international students learning German.

The reading and writing weren’t the hardest part of the course for me. Listening was pretty hard. So was speaking. Especially the pronunciation. I remember asking my Turkish friends from the school like “what should I do.. my head doesn’t want to understand German?” They said that I just need to learn more. I didn’t realize then how important it was to train listening and practice speaking– preparing for situations and correcting mistakes. We often had writing assignments for homework. In class, we did presentations of what we wrote. We still trained basic grammar. We played games. And we had a workbook that guided our learning. We did many types of activities to get us interacting with the language and to start talking about everyday stuff. I didn’t love going to class but it was okay overall. I also didn’t do much revising in my free time.

 

My First Experience at a Train Station in Europe

Here is a short account I wrote during that summer: So what does it feel like to be outside your home country for the first time? ~July 2015~
When my plane first landed on July 6th, I exited the Frankfurt airports only to come back into the airport to go upstairs to find the underground train station. At first, using the train ticket machine seemed impossible because it did not connect to Stuttgart Bahnhof. An Italian man named Luigi saw that I was having trouble and at first asked me if I was Italian. He suggested that I take the train to Frankfurt Main and so I took the train there with him. When I exited the train station, I walked up and down the same street until a guy working at a hotel saw that I needed help—he took me to Frankfurt Main train station. He spoke with someone who worked at the train station to get me to the right platform, but unfortunately it was not the right one for the ticket I bought. I didn’t know to print off the info either because the ticket doesn’t automatically have the platform number on it. I tried to ask a lady for help and look for the right platform, but I ended up missing the train and had to wait for a few hours until the next train came*. During that time span, I ordered a small strawberry milkshake and a mineral water and I paid a Euro to use the bathroom. There, I changed my top since I was feeling a little gross after being in the same outfit. Then I sat around some more before my train arrived. I was on the train (I reserved my seat) and the lady came by to check my ticket. It was a pretty nice ride to Stuttgart Bahnhof and I was exhausted so I may have drifted off during some of the train ride. At Stuttgart Bahnhof, I was having a difficult time finding Schwaebisch Hall-Hessental in the search results, but I finally found it. When I was waiting for the train, some people saying the train wasn’t coming today, so we were redirected to another train.

*By the way, there is always a large billboard with the train times and each station displays the trains too. But for some reason, I simply couldn’t find the platform that matched my train ticket. :/

 

Great Memories from My First Summer Abroad

You probably could tell that I wasn’t used to navigating in Germany or using trains, but the story goes on so let’s continue! Another good thing about this location was that the city was pretty easy to navigate and there was a pretty awesome program planned for that month by the language school. Each week there was a Stammtisch at a different restaurant. That was a good way to practice German, meet the other international students and enjoy an evening out. The school also had its own little bar that was open on Friday nights. Drinks were cheap and there was good music. Of course there was dancing too! The school really offered such a diverse and fun-filled summer program. There were dance classes. You could go out and draw the city. You also had the chance to participate in a local summer fest and bring food from your country. In addition, we toured a local brewery. They served us free beer and dinner. Well, I think the tour cost 3 Euros. We also took a bus to Neuschwanstein castle. We had the whole day there and also got to visit the town nearby. My summer there was more than just planned events though. I had a blast eating ice cream with my friends, watching movies at home, going to the movie theater, and many other little experiences.

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There was one disco in Schwäbisch-Hall that we went to several times. I had such a blast dancing and meeting people from all around the world. One time I even went to a bigger disco outside of the city and I really loved the atmosphere of German discos. I always went with friends so I felt safe and comfortable. Because it was summer, it was such a great time to have a beer in a Biergarten. It was my first time to have a legal drink! (since I was only 18) And it was such an exciting experience to order a beer and get a Pfand back when I returned the glass. There was also a fair and I had a great time seeing the beautifully decorated rides and having a feeling of being back in USA.

Two good things that I did back then were: 1) I enjoyed myself. Just by participating in activities, meeting new people and being immersed in German language, I learned a lot without stressing myself about learning. That is something I learned the hard way this go around during my exchange year here. Studying is a good thing. And if it is something you enjoy, there is no harm in it, but real life interactions and experiences are much more memorable than just taking notes. 2) I lived in the moment. I wasn’t trying to see all the major cities of Germany in one month. I didn’t have to record every moment on my phone. I took it day by day and focused on what was in front of me.

Once I returned to USA, I did experience some reverse culture shock. My friends were there to pick me up from the airport. And everyone was excited that I was back. Somehow I felt sad and even missed Germany. The stress about finding the right gate at the airport was over. I could easily use my mother tongue. But I missed Germany’s beauty, I viewed USA differently and I felt a bit bored being American in America. Alright. I will conclude this part by sharing what I remember about how I felt before I left: I honestly wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I didn’t have any big worries. It felt like a big experience, but overall, I was relatively relaxed and neutral about it. Following are a few photos of the trip. =)

 

Second Summer Abroad

I’m not going to include as many details about my second summer abroad (the following year). My intentions are to compare the types of programs, how I handled things, and complete my college story in relation to traveling and studying languages. In May 2016, I spent another month in Germany. With the same type of language school but in a different city. This time I was in Mannheim. And I had a goal to really learn German. I was still nervous about exploring the city of Mannheim on my own, but I meet a handful of good friends and we had some good times in the city. This time I also had friends from my German class and we spoke only German together. I got to visit Heidelberg and Darmstadt with a group from the language school. I also made it all the way to Aachen to visit a new friend I had made. And at the end of my trip, I spent about five days in Stuttgart, where I visited my great uncle and also did some sightseeing. Here is a little text I wrote in Mannheim about arriving to Germany for the second time:

Mein Flug nach Stuttgart war gut. Ich habe einen alten Mann kennengelernt. Er ist Amerikaner und liebt seine Familie sehr. Ich konnte nur ein bisschen schlafen. An der Passkontrolle habe ich Deutsch gesprochen. Heute Morgen bin ich zuerst zum Stuttgart Bahnhof gefahren. Dann bin ich mit dem Zug nach Mannheim gefahren. Ich musste mit der Strassen- Bahn zur Sprachschule (Goethe-Institut) fahren. Im Flughafen habe ich nach dem Weg gefragt. Es war einfach Goethe-Institut zu finden. Ich hatte ein kurzes Interview, aber ich hatte den Test schon online gemacht. Ich beginne in einem B2.1 Kurs. Ich werde versuchen, nur Deutsch zu sprechen. Mit anderen Studenten habe ich nur Deutsch gesprochen—auch mit den Angestellten Goethe-Instituts. Hoffentlich habe ich einen schönen Besuch hier und lerne viel Deutsch.

(My flight to Stuttgart was good. I met an older gentleman. He is American and really loves his family. I was only able to sleep a little bit. At the passport control, I spoke German. This morning I first travelled to Stuttgart train station. Then I travelled to Mannheim by train. I had to ride the trolley to the language school. It was easy to find the school. I had a short interview, but I had already done the test online. I will start in a B2.1 course. I am going to try to only speak German. With the other students, I have only spoken German–also with the employees of the language school. Hopefully, I will have a nice visit here and will learn a lot of German.)

 

Leaving Germany for Russia

So now it’s time to finish up this entry by including some information about my Russian trip and explaining a bit more how study abroad works at my home university in USA. Before we apply to any programs or scholarships at my university, we have to visit an informational session at the study abroad office. There you learn about the types of programs offered, scholarships, how to raise money and you have the chance to ask questions. Our study abroad office has a website and also an online platform you use to apply for the programs and also any scholarships from the study abroad office.

During the informational session I learned about AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Study.) With AIFS, I either wanted to visit a Spanish-speaking country or Russia. In Germany (2015),  I met some Russians which got me interested in Russian culture. I thought summer of 2016 was a good time to start learning Russian. Before I left, I skyped with a teacher for a few months and could read the alphabet and knew some basic words. But communication was very hard. Looking back, I don’t regret going when I did. However, I could have studied the language, culture and history more intensively before I left. I was still learning German and studying at university and in May of that year I was in Germany for a month so I probably wouldn’t have had enough time to do any more than what I did. And maybe, two trips abroad in one summer was too much. I had already been away from home for a long time and I didn’t have enough time to invest in preparing for the Russian program since I was in Germany. But anyway, let’s continue.

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My program to Russia was with AIFS, which is an external program from my university. I had to do additional paperwork to get my courses transferred and to receive my summer scholarship for the coursework I did. One form was called “intent to study off-campus” which was for the financial aid office. The other form was about the course work and I had to have each course personally signed off by a professor. For example, an art professor signed off for the Russian art course. A politics professor for the politics course and so on. Then I had to have my advisor do a final signature before I turned it in to the study abroad office. That is a different process than study abroad programs that are from my university–organized by professors. For such study abroad courses, you sign up the same way you do for normal classes and fill out your information on the online study abroad platform. And for the year exchange I am doing now, you register study abroad place credit holders and when you bring your transcript back after the exchange, then you can get the credits added.

And here is a quick snapshot of the Russian study abroad program:

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Even though I made it to several museums and different places in addition to what was included in our program, there was still so much I wanted to see and do! The program was awesome. The city was awesome. Five weeks just wasn’t enough. I would recommend a semester there to make full use of all the options and see more of the city and do nearby excursions.

Another suggestion I have if you do a similar program where a large group of students are all together is to make friends with two smaller groups. People with similar interests tend to group up fast so be very outgoing in the beginning! Don’t be afraid to do things alone either, but I truly suggest trying to have two different groups of people that you connect with and can do things with.

It would take several blog posts to cover a full-reflection (as well as a report) of what I did during my time in Russia. But I’m sure you are a bit curious how it was to be in mysterious, dangerous Russia, so I want to share my perception of Saint Petersburg and how it changed over the five weeks I spent there. My first impression was like wow, it is so beautiful. And I noticed immediately that the atmosphere (how the people behaved and the appearance of the country itself) seemed a lot more distant, serious and melancholic than Germany. For at the least the first two weeks, I was so impressed by the many things to see and felt like it was amazing to see the city both as a tourist and exchange student. Later on, I ended up feeling sad, too. Even doing everyday tasks required a lot of effort and I felt very un-Russian. I felt a bit alone and far away from home. And by my last week there, Saint Petersburg ended up warming up to me. I met new people casually in public. I ended up hanging with a friend who had broken away and done their own thing the previous weeks. My coursework was coming to an end and slowly I was making use of the Russian language.

When I returned back home to USA, I made the decision to apply for a year-long exchange in Germany. I ended up not getting accepted into the program, but I had already made the decision to spend a year in Germany. So when applications for the Erlangen exchange from my university rolled around the following spring, I had to apply! I have been living in Germany for 7 months already. And I am not ready for my time here to end.

That was my introduction to studying abroad for American students. Each day I experienced something special. I also encountered new things that helped me grow as a person. My first two summers abroad were just the beginning! I plan to share several posts about my current study abroad here in Erlangen, Germany.

 

Enjoy the spring,

Stephanie F.

How I learned German (A Bilingual Text)

This is a text I originally wrote in German and translated into English. It’s about how I learned German (before I began my year-long study abroad here).

Im Januar 2015 habe ich angefangen, Deutsch zu lernen. Bevor ich “German 1001” an der Georgia State University hatte, wusste ich nicht, wie man eine Fremdsprache effektiv lernt. In der Schule habe ich Französisch gelernt. Meine Französischlehrerinnen waren toll, aber damals dachte ich nicht, dass ich eines Tages eine Fremdsprache wirklich sprechen werde. Als ich mein Studium begann, entdeckte ich Linguistik. Nach meinem ersten Linguistikkurs bemerkte ich, dass ich mich für die Grammatik und Struktur von Sprachen interessierte. Ich musste eine Fremdsprache für mein Studium sowieso lernen, und ich habe mich für Deutsch entschieden, weil meine Großmutter (väterlicherseits) aus Deutschland kommt. Von zweisprachigen Menschen war ich immer beeindruckt, und ich wollte endlich eine zweite Sprache sprechen.

In January 2015, I started learning German. Before I had “German 1001” at Georgia State University, I wasn’t sure how one learns a foreign language effectively. During (secondary) school, I learned French. My French teachers were awesome, but I didn’t think back then that I would one day actually speak a foreign language. When I started my university studies, I discovered linguistics. After my first linguistics course, I noticed that I was interested in the grammar and structure of languages. I needed to learn a foreign language for my major anyway and I decided to learn German because my (paternal) Grandmother is from Germany. Bilingual people had always impressed me and I wanted to finally speak a second language.

Am Anfang hatte ich einen schrecklichen Akzent, und ich war manchmal verwirrt mit der Grammatik. Es gibt 16 Arten von the im Deutschen! Ich habe natürlich Fehler gemacht, aber ich wollte immer mehr lernen und meine Kenntnisse verbessern. Im Kurs habe ich viele Fragen gestellt, und meine Notizen wiederholt. Anscheinend hat es mir auch geholfen, auf Deutsch zu denken. Als ich zu Fuβ gegangen bin, formulierte ich Sätze und versuchte meine Umgebung auf Deutsch zu beschreiben.

In the beginning, I had a horrible accent and I was sometimes confused with the grammar. There are 16 words for the in German! I naturally made mistakes, but I wanted to always learn more and improve my skills. During class, I asked many questions and I repeated my notes. Apparently, it helped me to think in German. When I walked around, I created sentences and tried to describe my surroundings in German.

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Dann bin ich zum ersten Mal ins Ausland gereist. Ich hatte einen vierwöchigen Deutschkurs beim Goethe- Institut in Schwäbisch Hall. Obwohl ich viel Englisch gesprochen habe, war viel Deutsch in meinem Umfeld. Ich wurde inspiriert, Deutsch zu lernen, weil viele Europäer mehrsprachig waren und gute Tipps hatten. Als ich zurück in die USA gekommen bin, wechselte ich mein Hauptfach zu Deutsch. Ich lernte Deutsch gleichzeitig an GSU und beim Goethe-Zentrum Atlanta. Einzelunterricht dort war ein Schlüsselerlebnis. Ich verwendete Grammatikbücher, und suchte nach allen möglichen Quellen zum Deutschlernen

Then I went abroad for the first time. I had a four-week German language course at Goethe-Institute in Schwaebisch Hall. Although I spoke a lot of English, there was a lot of German in my environment. I became inspired to learn German because many Europeans were multilingual and had good tips. When I got back to USA, I changed my major to German. I learned German simultaneously at GSU and at Goethe-Zentrum Atlanta. Individual lessons there were a key experience. I used grammar books and searched for all possible resources to learn German.  

Im April 2016 habe ich die B1 Prüfung abgelegt und bestanden*. Ich war bereit, wieder nach Deutschland zu reisen. Im Mai hatte ich einen B2 Kurs in Mannheim, und es war erwartet, dass man nur Deutsch im Kurs sprach. Es war eine Herausforderung, Deutsch im Alltag zu benutzen. Manchmal war ich sehr schüchtern und leise, aber ich habe genug gesagt, um klar zu kommen. Danach schrieb ich oft auf Deutsch und drehte Vlogs, um mein Sprechen zu üben.

In April 2016, I took and passed the B1 Exam*. And I was ready to travel to Germany again. In May, I had a B2 level German course in Mannheim and it was expected that we only spoke German in class. It was a challenge to use German in every day life. Sometimes I was very shy and quiet, but I said enough to get by. After that, I wrote in German often and made videos to practice my speaking.

Jetzt höre ich die Nachrichten auf Deutsch. Und ich lese sehr gerne auf Deutsch. Außerdem beschäftige ich mich mit dem Vokabelnlernen. Wenn ich ein neues Wort höre, schreibe ich es mit einer Definition und einem Beispiel auf. Und ich benutze Vokabelnlisten von Deutsch Perfekt und Deutsche Welle, um meinen Wortzschatz zu erweitern. Ich versuche Lücken in meinen Kenntnissen herauszufinden, und die deutsche Grammatik Schritt für Schritt, auswendig zu lernen. Das war’s!

Now, I listen to the news in German. And I enjoy reading in German. Apart from that, I keep myself busy learning vocabulary. When I hear a new word, I always write it down with a definition and an example. And I use vocabulary lists from Deutsch Perfekt and Deutsche Welle to widen my vocabulary. I try to find gaps in my skills and learn German grammar (by heart) step by step. That’s it.

Thanks for reading! As you see from my story, learning a language is a long process that requires motivation, regularity and some kind of system. Some days you love it and other days you’re just frustrated. Start small, get practicing, find some good resources and actually use the language somehow (like with a language partner). It’s good to have a teacher, but you also have to teach yourself the language. It’s also important to know why you are learning the language in order to keep yourself focused and to concentrate on what’s most important/useful for you personally. No one studies an entire language in three months. A language is learned step by step–word by word–level by level.

All the best and good luck with your language-learning! If you are interested in more tips on how to effectively learn foreign languages go here 🙂 –> Language Learners‘ Toolbox

Stephanie F.

*My current German level is C1/C2. I hope to take the C1 exam before I leave Germany and pass the C2 exam within the next year or two.

New language, new life

For instance, the beginning of your foreign language-learning journey is similar to the first time you hear a beautiful song where you are first captivated by the overall sound; then, you develop the ability to slowly pick out words, next grasp a gist of the meaning, and then, finally, the philosophical richness of the language.

How Learning A Foreign Language Has Given My Life New Meaning (originally written October 2016)

 

Learning a foreign language not only reveals how other societies think and feel, what they have experienced and value, and how they express themselves, it also provides a cultural mirror in which we can more clearly see our own society.” —Chancellor Edward Lee Gorsuch

 

Foreign languages have different structures, unique grammars, varying sound systems and dynamic expressions fitted for those languages. Therefore, stepping out of the comfort zone of one’s mother tongue can be very intimidating; however, learning a foreign language will invite you into the global community, challenge you to grow personally and will benefit you no matter your interests, career or age.

 

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Have you ever wondered what someone was saying in a foreign language you couldn’t understand? Have you seen Arabic written and desperately desired to read it? Each language has its own mystery. That means any language can offer you something new and thrilling—whether it be the diminutives in German, the free word order in Russian, or the alveolar trill of the “rolling” Spanish “Rrrrr.” You can learn a new way to insult someone—or compliment them. Most likely, you will choose a language that you enjoy hearing; however, refrain from being discouraged when you do not understand everything immediately. For instance, the beginning of your foreign language-learning journey is similar to the first time you hear a beautiful song where you are first captivated by the overall sound; then, you develop the ability to slowly pick out words, next grasp a gist of the meaning, and then, finally, the philosophical richness of the language.

 

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The study of Latin and Greek was necessary for scholars until the late nineteenth century. Maybe reading Homer’s Iliad in Ancient Greek is not a primary goal for us in the twenty-first century (everything is already translated into English, right?), but studying a foreign language in post-secondary education makes us stronger scholars. Not only is our scholarly aptitude enhanced because of the access to original material in a foreign language, but also because we become more creative, more flexible and better listeners once we have studied a foreign language. Each of these attributes lead to an improvement in the study of all other subjects.

 

DOLLS AND DICTIONARIES.jpgTranslation is possible but so much is lost in the process. There are many forms of language, such as academic, written, and colloquial. Academic language allows us to verbalize complex concepts through words like connotation or morpheme, whereas spoken language consistently changes and written language records history. Accordingly, when you are able to understand a foreign language, not only do you gain access into the daily lives of the speakers but also a glimpse into the minds of the thinkers and artists through literature, music, and overall new sources of information in the language.
PETERSBURG“[T]he traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep [.]” – Margaret Mead, American anthropologist. Traveling abroad is more than just a “vacation.” The more you know about a country’s history and how its residents live, the better you will be able to converse with those around you. The most satisfying travel abroad will be one in which you communicate in a foreign language. Through using your language skills, you experience an intangible, rewarding feeling as you navigate through the environment better, by ordering meals, bartering at shops and experiencing the cultural nuances.

 

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Learning a foreign language allows you to understand the world in which we live in just a bit better. Other languages are not English vocabulary hidden in different sounds. You may find yourself surprised when you have more in common with a native speaker of an exotic European language than someone from your hometown, which I have personally experienced. My community is no longer limited to my hometown, the state of Georgia, or even my country of origin—learning a foreign language has opened up the entire globe as a place of possibility for deepening my relationship with myself and others. Ultimately, learning German for almost two years and Russian for about half a year has improved my ability to learn, deepened my understanding of myself and has given me so many opportunities to meet people from around the world; therefore, it is no surprise that I enthusiastically recommend learning a foreign language to anyone.

 

 

Inspired to learn a language? Check out my Language Learners‘ Toolbox for useful tips on how to effectively learn a foreign language!

~Stephanie F.

Was ist Deutsch? (What is German?)

Liebe Leserinnen und Leser,

Heute versuchen wir die Frage “Was ist Deutsch?” zu beantworten. (Today we will try to answer the question “What is German?”). We will cover historical information as well as modern thoughts from several people–including myself. The magazine “Deutsch perfekt” put together an interesting article on the topic (September 2017) that I really wanted to discuss since many points are connected with the introductory points in my course, German Civilization. I will begin by discussing the article then I will share my thoughts and experiences on German culture compared to American culture.

Wir wissen schon woher der Name “Germanen” kommt (Julius Cäsar). (We already know where the name “Germans” is from.) Aber was steckt hinter dem Namen “deutsch”? (But what is behind the name “deutsch”?) Laut Deutsch perfekt “deutsch” bedeutet (according to Deutsch perfekt “deutsch” means):

  • “Deutsch ist die Sprache, die zum Volk gehört.” (Deutsch is the language that belong to the Volk.)
  • “Historisch gesehen, bedeutet “deutsch” nicht viel mehr als” ungefähr die gleiche Sprache zu sprechen.” (Historically, deutsch does not mean much more than speaking roughly the same language)
    [At the time there wasn’t just one Germany–instead, there were hundreds of smaller lands. In 1800 the situation changed due to hate for Napoleon (and his occupation) and the many Germans united under national pride. ]
  • Hat Deutsch perfekt Recht? Was steht unter “deutsch” im Duden? Deutsch=VolkThe Germany dictionary, Duden, confirms that “deutsch” carries the meaning of Volk.
  • Short grammatical note:  deutsch (adjective- “German”); (das) Deutsch (German language); Deutscher (German man); Deutsche (German woman); Deutsche (also plural- “Germans”); die Deutschen (the Germans). Unlike most other nationalities in German [der Amerikaner, die Amerikanerin “the American (man)”, “the American (woman)”], the words for German (female, male, plural) behave like adjectives, therefore their declination depends on the gender (or if it is plural) as well as whether they stand alone, with ein (a), or der (the).

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By the way, Deutsch Perfekt is a great resource for language learners. Articles are written in a simpler fashion, vocabulary is listed in side notes and grammar is explained in a refreshing manner focusing on what’s most important with plenty of examples. You can subscribe to the monthly magazine digitally or in print and there is also an accompanying website. Check it out if you want to know more about German culture and language!

Back to our topic.. How does “Deutsch perfekt” define Germanness?  First, I will include some of the main answers given in the article (many of which were repeated throughout). Then, I will share my summary and conclusion to the article. After we finish with the article, I will move on to my comparison of German and American culture. Title page of the article see below.

“The question is easy. The answer too: German is, that there is no easy way to answer. Why then is identity such an important topic for the Germans?”

 

The article continues with several photos see below:






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Featured Answers to the Question “Was ist Deutsch?”:

  • “Deutschland ist bunt.” (Germany is colorful.)
  • “Dichter und Denker.” (Poets and thinkers.)
  • “Ruhig und geordnet.” (quiet and orderly)- quiet streets; bold emotions aren’t shown in public; concentration within “in sich”
  • “Nirgends gibt es so viele Vereine.” (Nowhere else are there so many clubs.)
  • To think about the question (what is German?), but nothing really so strange that doesn’t exist somewhere else
  • “Nationalsozialismus”
  • “Pünktlichkeit” (punctuality)
  • “Zuverlässigkeit” (reliability)
  • “Einwanderungsland” (Germany is a land of immigration.)- Every fifth person in Germany is an immigrant or the child of immigrant parents.
  • “Regeln” (rules)
  • “Bürokratie”

 

Summary and Discussion of the Article:

The article begins by stating that even German researchers and philosophers, who have analyzed what it means to be German, think that there is no definite answer, but that the question is nonetheless very important to Germans and they will always be curious as to how they are perceived for being German. Nietzsche wrote in 1886 the following: “Es kennzeichnet die Deutschen, dass bei ihnen die Frage “was ist deutsch?” niemals ausstribt.” (My rough translation: “Germans are marked German because the question “was ist deutsch?” will never die out among them.”) Another point that was stressed in the beginning of the article is that Germany is diverse.

Several people share their opinion about German culture–including foreigners and native Germans. Alida Bremer, a German-Croatian writer, states that punctuality and reliability are very clearly important. She also shares that Germans don’t have problems correcting others and that they love to follow the rules. Bremer has been living in Germany for more than 30 years, does translation as well as writing in German. Another point she mentions is that Germans sometimes seem unsure who they are. A psychologist and native German, Stephan Grünewald, does marketing research and believes that this uneasiness leads to productivity–i.e. that Germans want to be do something with purpose.

 

Conclusion:

The article from Deutsch perfekt is a collection of opinions from writers, researchers and business people. Native Germans as well as foreigners, who have lived in Germany for many years, are included. History and modern culture is broken down in order to provide readers with a better glimpse into the meaning of “deutsch.” A variety of images are also used to make the article more vibrant. If I could sum up the article with just one or two of the points mentioned, I would say: “Deutsch” means many things, but what is very “deutsch” is the desire to know what it means.

I am an American exchange student living in Germany so what do I think are some of the potential meanings of “deutsch” in relation to American culture? Let’s explore some of the main points that come to mind below. Please do not think I am trying to offend you or anyone else. Obviously, these points will be relatively subjective. There are always positive and negative sides. I like both my native language and country as well as the German language and Germany. I hope that you will see that I am actually not trying to be so negative anyway. I have not had any special intercultural training other than the short discussions of German culture compared to other cultures in my orientation week here. Not to mention, I have taken several German language courses in the United States as well as in Germany. Therefore, I have picked up on most of these things through experience.

Some points that stood out from me from the discussion of German culture in my orientation course are as following: 1) Germans loving talking about German stereotypes and explaining how “true” or “not true” they are. 2) Some stereotypes mentioned include: having a clean, nice car; love of rules and insurances; hard shell- warm on inside; punctuality (but that’s true because time is valuable); Germans are direct and honest (say what you mean when around Germans)

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Photo credit: Pinterest ~Most likely taken from a presentation for international business or cultural studies~

 

Speaking English- Speaking German:

In the USA, it is pretty much expected that everyone can speak English. Since foreign languages are not stressed at most schools and American culture is so dominant around the world (not to mention English is the lingua franca and one-third of the world speaks English), very few Americans speak more than one language. If a foreigner speaks English to an American, the American will speak English back to them.

In Germany, it is a totally different situation. Elementary school students must take many school subjects including foreign languages. Not to mention, English is everywhere–music, cosmetic industry, general advertising, business industry, tourism industry, science and so on. In everyday conversation, Germans use English words (even if there may be German equivalents) in their speech. For foreigners who have just learned a few words in German, they should pretty much expect that they won’t hear much German spoken to them. Workers in almost all fields will quickly respond with English. Even when you are decently fluent in German and ask touristy questions (where is the bathroom?), some Germans will still respond in English–I guess they just want to practice their foreign language skills. Because they get used to many tourists/foreigners who aren’t very interested in learning German, advanced students of German may get frustrated. If you are in an official situation where you have to share that you are American (for example, opening a bank account) and speak great German with them, sometimes they may start speaking English (out of habit) and ask whether they should speak German or English. I have personally experienced the last situation and I respond in German, but I am never rude if someone is so eager to speak English to me because I trust my language skills and don’t let little interactions cause me to lose my confidence. But, I also want to add that once you have a good foundation in German and a decent accent, Germans will converse with you and go on with things like normal. Not all Germans speak English and they speak English on many different levels, but do expect to read & hear the English language in everyday German life and meet many Germans very eager to practice English.

Smiling

Americans may not realize how often they smile in comparison to other nationalities until they go abroad. Many other nationalities (Germans, Russians, etc.) often interpret the frequent smiling as superficial/dishonest or weird/crazy. To Russians, a person walking down the street just smiling is not all right in the head. And an approaching person, who is smiling, wants something. Even smiling is not 100% viewed the same in all parts of the USA. Take for example, a small southern town in comparison to a big city. A smile is usually (or so I think) a polite/friendly greeting once you make eye contact with somebody or it is an indication that everything is alright. But in a fast-paced city, where you may not be able to trust everyone around you, a smile may be too personal. In Germany, I have experienced a lot of staring when walking down the street or quick, awkward glances when passing someone. So, yes it seems fair to say that Germans stare more and smile less. Overall, they do not have as dramatic and open emotions as Americans and can appear more business-like even in casual situations. But, they do smile in Germany–especially once they have got to know you. No need to feel intimidated if you don’t see a lot of smiles and give Germans some time to open up. Eye contact and smiling may also be interpreted as flirting in Germany so keep that in mind too! To sum it up: if not waving and not smiling isn’t considered unfriendly in Germany, then that also means when an American waves or smiles to a stranger they aren’t necessarily being unaufrichtig/oberflächlich (insincere/superficial), it is a habit of their culture and considered polite and friendly even if they may not be overflowing with joy to meet a stranger.

Hello!

Greetings & small talk

When you enter a room (a shared kitchen for example) or any shop, you will always be greeted–but just with “hello” and not “hello, how are you?” In comparison, in American stores you may often be greeted with “hey. how are you? how’s it going?” Also when you exit a place in Germany, you say bye. Often Americans leave without saying goodbye. There is some small talk (especially among students), but Germans seem to be more comfortable with the silence when among strangers. Although, I have noticed that older Germans love to talk with each other on the bus and train. And just like anywhere, people usually talk to the most with people they already know. So I am not implying here that Germans don’t like to converse with each other–just that it depends on the situation and small talk in the line at the grocery store or other similar situations is less common than what I experienced growing up in Georgia, USA. There are many clubs in Germany and they also have parties and other events so there is a lot of social life and conversation here too. I have encountered many outgoing Germans who always introduce themselves, but also less talkative, shy Germans too. Overall, greetings (hello-bye) are a daily standard everywhere but open conversation among strangers seems to be much more common in the USA. In formal, impersonal situations, what is necessary is said, but “personal” topics are only discussed in informal, more casual situations (in Germany).

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That brings me to my next point–namely, about being polite vs. being straightforward. Well, let’s just start by saying that Germans complain more. When they don’t like how something is being done, they will say something. I don’t think that makes them rude–they are just trying to improve things. Americans also tend to soften the truth instead of being straight forward. Yeah, they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but what can be accomplished when everyone avoids the truth? In Germany, you get what you ask for. Constructive criticism gives Germans the chance for self-improvement. German language tends to be more literal whereas English can do roundabouts. Opinions and discussions are gladly heard in Germany.

 

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Eating at the table

Although there is a proper way to eat at the table in English-speaking countries, fast-food has made this less relevant in America. We eat with our hands, talk loudly at the table and sometimes cut our food and then put the knife back down and just eat with the fork. One thing I’ve observed in Germany is that Germans usually keep their hands and arms visible–above the table. They often rest their elbows on the table, which I guess is not considered rude here. Yes at the Biergarten, Germans are going to be talking with each other but somehow Americans are always louder. Finally, Germans eat with a fork and knife and do not set the knife down until they are finished eating (or need to reach for a drink, etc.) There are some foods that you eat just with the hands (pretzels or bread rolls), but fries and burgers are eaten here with a knife and fork.

To conclude this article on “Was ist deutsch?”, I want to return to Deutsch perfekt’s article, which ends with “Deutsch at a glance.” This part of the article is labeled “schwer”- meaning it is written for advanced students, but check it out and see what you can understand. If it isn’t clear, I recommend dict.cc for translation. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this presentation and were able to understand the question and answers to “Was ist deutsch?” a bit better. My question for you is: how did you interpret the photos that were included in the Deutsch perfekt article? Abstract? Meaningful?

Until next time,

Stephanie

 

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Why “Austauscherfahrungen”?

Intro to the blog!

Dear readers,

My name is Stephanie Ford and I am a big fan of world languages and culture. I will be living and studying in Erlangen, Germany until next August (2018).

My home university is Georgia State in Atlanta, Georgia. I am a senior and I’m currently doing a few online courses with Georgia State in order to complete my degree requirements. Although I miss class discussions, I still must do some “class participation.” My class participation is vor Ort (“locally”).

In this blog, I will share excursions, film reviews and research projects related to the course “German Civilization.” I will also share my opinions on sightseeing I may have done, useful insider tips, and some comparisons between German and American culture.

I invite my fellow students to read about my experience here as an exchange student as well as anyone else interested in Germany or studying abroad.