28 October 2006

First Week of Classes

The semester officially began this past Monday, and I finally experienced the true life of this German university. They definitely go about things a little differently than America universities. More things will probably surprise me as the semester progresses, but here is what I encountered for this first week, and of course I'll also throw into the mix a few of the other ups and downs that completed the past five days or so.

On Monday I had two classes, German Conversation II and the Geography of Bavaria. First up, the German course began at one in the afternoon and allowed me plenty of time to sleep the morning away. The Language Center offers this course, and they design it for foreign students learning German, so the teachers speak relatively slow and announciate their words. No book is needed for the course, and little homework will be given; therefore, it receives no complaints from me. Every course taken by me, like most of the courses here, only meet once a week. However, each session can last anywhere from one and half to two and half hours. Apparently German universities do not synchronize their class schedules for the day, and the convesation course ended fifteen minutes after the geography course began.

The geography course is a regular class offered by the Geography deparment, in other words, not designed for foreign students like myself. I emailed the professor beforehand and received his approval for coming late to class. I also needed to determine if we could find a way for me to receive credit for the class for it is only a lecture.

For German students, lecture courses are just that, there is usually no homework, no book for the course, and no final exam. The university expects the German students to attend the lecture, listen attentively, and take away knowledge without the motive of performing well on exams. As you can begin to see, the German university system expects students to be much more independently motivated and to hold themeselves accountable for their academic performance. Imagine what it's like trying to explain to a native citizen the concept of curving grades. In the end, the geography professor told me I could take an exam at the end of the course.

When I finally arrived to the class, about thirty minutes after its start, I slowly walked opened the door and walked in. Essentially the entire class of maybe 75 people turned around to look at me as I searched for a seat. The professor stopped his lecture and said, "Are you the American?" The class laughed after my confirmation and I found a seat by the window. I wanted to take the course for two reasons, I need a culture geography course for my major at the U of M, and I wanted to learn more about the area I now live in. Unfortunately, after about an hour and half I could only take away about things from the lecture. Maybe it was the professor's accent or his topic, ancient history of the region, but I was not able to understand him too well. I decided I would try out another cultural geography course the next day. I was more confident that I would be able to follow this lecture better because of the topic of the course: the USA.

The Geography of the USA began at noon Tuesday and this time I was early to class. It was a good move on my part, because by the time class began students were sitting on the floor in the front of the lecture hall and others were standing out in the hallway. The professor said we would have to move to another room for the rest of the semester, and that he did not anticipate this many students (one does not enroll for classes ahead of time, rather he simply shows up on the first day). I sat in front of some girls from the Czech Republic whom I already knew through the study abroad student activities. They were surprised to see me in the course since it's a topic that I know so well.

To begin the class, the professor played a short movie he made which documented a trip he and some German students took last semester to the American southwest. As the scene faded in to Death Valley and "Born to be Wild" came out of the speakers I realized I prefered this class to the one on Bavaria. The movie also showed portions of their time spent in Los Angeles, and documented such places as the Walk of Stars and a shopping mall. After the movie the professor announced that we were going to take a quiz for fun, and I was ready to show off. There were ten questions about the dates and events in American history, such as the year we declared independence. Then we had to draw a map of the country on a blank sheet of paper and place and label at least two mountain chains, four rivers, the Great Lakes and eight cities. I looked around at my neighbors and the Czech girls and saw mostly rounded rectangles with randomly placed dots and dashes, but also some with an extension for the Northeast or Florida. The heading on our paper included the usual items like name and date, but the professor also asked us to write if we had ever been to America and, if yes, for how long. I wrote, "twenty years."

After the papers were collected the professor told us we would get them back next week and he began the lecture. We covered basic things about the size of the country, number of states, and the branches of the federal government. I think having a background in this topic helped in my comprehension of the professor, because I was able to follow along much better than in the Bavarian course. Naturally, I've decided to stay in the USA course. I might not learn much new information, but it will offer another perspective of America, and provide me with a good method of working on my German comprehension.

After the geography course it was off to German Course 4, another German course offered by the Language Center. This will last two and half hours till 5:30 in the afternoon every Tuesday.

Wednesday I woke up for my 10:30 class, The German Landscape after 1945. It's basically a geography course but the Language Center offers it for foreign students, although odd enough there is one German girl in the class. We will have to a give a twenty minute presentation about a topic at some point in the course, mine will be on the German state of Baden-Württemberg, home of the Black Forest. I might try switching to another course though, because I really didn't get too good of a feeling from the course or the professor. My decision can wait for a little while though, because next Wednesday is a holiday, All Souls Day, and there are no classes.

At one in the afternoon I went to a fencing class. The University Sport Center offers it every Wednesday at this time. It's not a true university course, rather more of an extracurricular activity for students. I never fenced before, but I have always wanted to give it a try, probably inspired as a kid from the light-saber duels in Star Wars. We went over basic positions and movements. Close to the end of the session we donned the protective jackets and helmets and sparred with one another. Those characters in the movies sure do make it look easy. I had a good time and I think I'll be returning in future weeks.

That was it for classes on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are my best days of the week for classes, because I have none on those days. This will give me ample free time to travel if I so desire, and of course to study. I actually think it might be too much free time, and I'm considering taking an introductory Spanish class for fun.

Many of the European students are taking anywhere from eight to thirteen classes for the semester. This blows my mind since five or six classes per semester is the norm for American college students.

Wednesday night, the start of my weekend, I went to a conversation event at a bar arranged by the International Student Organization. We should meet at the same time every week to hang out and practice our German. Charlotte and many other native Germans attended, so we had people present to actually correct our grammar when desired.

Walking home around Midnight with some Spanish and Italian girls I almost literally ran into some trouble. I was walking the curb of the sidewalk talking with Maria Rosa of Italy, who was walking in the street.

Now I must give a bit of disclaimer before I continue. This was the first time the following event happened to me, and I still do not know how I actually allowed it to happen. I contend that I normally possess an excellent sense of place in my surroundings. With that said, I shall continue.

While talking with Maria Rosa I apparently was not watching where I was walking. To put it simply, I walked into a light pole. To put it graphically, my left brow collided with cold hard metal and I stumbled back in a daze. I kept walking and swore I was alright, but then I brought my hand back down from consoling the place of impact and saw that distinctively red liquid on my fingers. Now if you thought having a handful of nationalities present in one group of friends could be confusing, imagine what happens when that group has its emotions excited by fear and worries. In a babel of languages they guided me back to their dorm building, where they found someone's frozen steak in the freezer. After a little first aid and rest they walked with me back to my home to make sure it got home alright. The spot is only a little sore now, and I'm simply thankful I collided with the pole there and not my nose. But my streak of physical bad luck didn't end there.

Thursday night there was a large party for the whole university in the Theke, the student bar. Imagine three floors of rooms filled shoulder to shoulder with seemingly every student from the university. The party was alright enough, but as I was walking with friends, some of the same from the night before, down the stairs to the exit someone dropped a beer bottle from the top of the stairs. Want to take a guess where it landed? Square on the top of my head. I thought I would be greeting my blood for a second night in a row, but luckily it didn't break the skin. Now that spot too is a little sore. Word travels fast in Eichstätt, the next day I got an email from Charlotte saying she heard about the bottle and asking if I was alright.

Friday I slept in and eventually got around to introducing some foreigners to Ultimate Frisbee, an entirely new game for them. I predict it will quickly spread over Europe.

That's essentially it for my school week. I promise that the post on Eichstätt will come soon. Lastly, remember to watch out for poles.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nicholas,
I realize the pole and beer bottle incidence might have been a little painful. However reading about them, was hilarious. Have they (the foreign students) taken to calling you the clumsy American?
You stated the Geramn students take 8 to 13 classes. I take these classes aren't 40 hour coureses. Waiting on the post about the city of Eichstaett. Also the post prior this one was good with your pictures, but kind of dark because of the weather. So try to provide some more pictures of your friends and yourself.
DaddyO

Noelia said...

hahahaha

This post was incredible!! I am still laughing!!!!

For the spanish girls, your head colliding with the light pole was a subject of discursion between us for a long time!! Elena (she was who found the fozen steak which belonged to Frau Kramer, the old lady from my floor) decided that your accident with the pole was the most unforgetable event that she had never seen in Eichstätt!!

You forgot saying that you offered almost all your nurses really delicious american cookies but i didn't understand why any of the girls like them:P only me!! I ate all of them!

Daddy, I don't understand what the meaning of clumsy american, but I suppose it......Be calm, we called Nick with a lot of different adjectives in our natives languages:D

About the beer botle,I was there when it happened.......really bad luck.....I'm sorry Nick.......too much bad luck!!!!

Don't be susprised about the 8 to 13 german classes.......Here in Spain we have 9 to 15 or 15 to 22 each day, 5 days pro week......And European Students say, we usually don't study in Spain!! Incredible!!