Blog 4: Germany and things

It has been a busy month since I’ve last posted. First and foremost, my pre-semester German course ended, and all of my classes for the actually semester. And, since I did well enough in the German pre-semester course, I was placed into the next level for the actually semester. I was happy considering that was my first “formal” German class that I had ever taken.  With respect to the semester classes, I’m not use to only having a particular class once a week, which means that I have a lot more non-classroom time (apparently, though, not enough non-classroom time to keep up with my blogs).  I’m taking four classes: Intro to Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition, a Heidegger class, and my German course. Being that this is my first time outside the US with more exposure to different languages than ever, it seemed appropriate to take classes about the scientific study of languages.  

With regards to classroom procedure (although this could be applied to just living in general), it seems as if the University of Cologne holds my hand much less than Duquesne holds my hand.  For example, given that my classes are only once a week, the learning seems to be much more of an individual thing, where the classroom time being spent more for discussion of what has been read. I don’t necessarily mind this, though, as, being a particularly motivated student, I feel as we “squeeze” more out of the time in the class. 

And while I do have more non-classroom time, there always seems to be something organized for the international students, or some meeting with a group of international students (to watch the soccer game or something), to keep us busy or social.  One thing that I never mentioned before about Germany that I thought was strikingly different from the US that I would like to mention now is its treatment of alcohol. When I arrived, I was never used to seeing people casually walking around the streets or the city with a beer or some liquor. The seemingly open attitude to alcohol in Germany just seems so much of a healthier way of handling it than in the states. 

Another thing that I’ve been thinking about every recently is what it actually means to understand something. I mean, it seems that we assume (in a general sense) that if we can answer questions about a topic on a test, then we understand that topic, but I have been thinking about the converse. Namely, what are the necessary conditions of understanding something? This thought arose (perhaps without a good reason) during my Second Language Acquisition class when we discussed Chomsky’s distinction between linguistic competence (all of the knowledge of a language held by a native speaker) and performance (which is how the language is actually used). The distinction seems appropriate because, for example, an English native speaker who, in an accident, loses his ability to speak and understand English, could regain his English performance much more quickly than if he were to have lost completely all his knowledge of English (paraphrased from one of my texts). 


Some of my plans for the rest of the week include going to a practice of the Erster Kölner Barbershop Chor. This is a men’s chorus that sings primarily Barbershop music. Barbershop is my favorite subset of acapella music, and I’m very excited to have gotten in touch with these guys and to be able to sing with them!  Also, I think that this weekend I will be meeting up with at least of the students that I became friendly with who studied abroad at Duquesne University from the University of Cologne (the exact opposite of what I’m doing). It’ll be nice to catch up!



Blog 3: Zen, Football, and Things

Living about 5km from campus, I am very reliant on the trams to get where I need to go. I was surprised, then, when the workers union for the trams and buses of the city of Cologne decided to go on strike to push for higher salaries! Unfortunately, I had class that day, so I had to figure out some other way to get into the city! So, I walked, with another friend, to the closest regional train station (the regional trains weren’t on strike), which was a lovely 40 minute walk, to finally continue on with my day. Although I was told later that strikes like this happen very rarely in Cologne, I learned recently that there is another day long strike tomorrow!  On the bright side of things, it could be a lot worse. For example, there are two sections of my class. The section I’m in is the afternoon section (2:15pm – 5:30pm). However, I could have been placed easily into the morning section (8:45am – 12pm)!

My week has been, overall, enjoyable though. Yesterday, I went to a Kwan Um School of Zen for their weekly evening practice session. We did some bowing, chanting, two 30 minute sessions of sitting meditation (called zazen), and a little bit of walking meditation (which I think is called Kinhin). I’ve practiced zazen on my on before, so the 1 hour of total sitting meditation was much more manageable for me than I believe it could have been for others.  The hardest part, though, was noticing that a couple minutes into the first sitting meditation, I got what felt like the worst running nose ever (I either have allergies, or caught the common cold), and had to just observe it run all across my lower face (I think you’re supposed to avoid breaking form!).  Now, I don’t identify as Buddhist (or any religion, for that matter), but I think that much of the Zen philosophy resonates with me, so I definitely had a good experience, and am willing to go back again. Going back would also give me the excuse to learn some sutras in German. Funny story, too!: One of the guys I met there, someone who was born and raised in Cologne, turned out to be a huge Steelers fan! Who would have guessed? Football isn’t very popular in Germany, and the person I met said that even those who are more in touch with football don’t know who the Steelers are!



Week 2 and Thoughts

So, what’s new with me? Well, I finally started the pre-semester German course this most recent Monday. Since it’s only a four week class, I have it everyday from 2:15pm to 5:30pm. I really don’t mind it though because a) the professor only speaks in German, so it is listening practice for three hours everyday and b) the class is something around which I can plan my day, as opposed to having another month off before classes start.

One of the things I have come to appreciate more this past week is simply how amazing it is that we (humans) can even speak a language at all! While growing up, the only spoken language that was ever used frequently (in my house, etc) was English.  And, given that I took Latin in high school, the only exposure I’ve had with respect to language comprehension (spoken) is still only English (of course, ignoring that time I had to take Spanish in 8th grade).  So, I’ve never really “experienced” anything but English. I think that what I am trying to get at is that if I’m asked a question in English, I immediately know how to respond to the question. I might have to think about the specifics of what to say, but I immediately recognize the “type” of the question being asked and know the “type” of answer that I have to give. Now, I’m not claiming this to be anything revolutionary; It’s just something that I haven’t even thought to consider before.

And, while I’m in a new country with new people, I sometimes feel lost without my occasional splurge in that which is math! To those who don’t know, I honestly believe I’m obsessed about learning math. I can (and have) literally sat and read a textbook for more than 6 and a half hours straight.   There are disadvantages to this, one being that you start to go crazy (ha. just kidding). While I’ve slowed down considerably from the last couple months (…there are many other things to do and I’m in Europe!), I must be honest and say that since coming to Germany, I’ve taken the occasional break from the world and decided to read about Galois theory instead! 

Arrival to Germany

Today was an adventure. I took a flight from the airport in Newark to Frankfurt on Saturday at 7:30pm (Philadelphia time) and arrived in Frankfurt at 9:15 am (Germany time).  My final destination was Cologne, but in an attempt to save money, it was cheaper to fly into Frankfurt and then take a train from the Frankfurt Airport. Trains tickets are expensive though, so we (and by that I mean me and the other student I was traveling with) bought a weekend ticket for a Regional train to Cologne which, while cheaper, add about two hours more in traveling time.  What I was not expecting, though, was being so tired throughout the day! Not being able to sleep very well on the flight, my body on sunday was impressively even operated on about two total hours of sleep (including the power nap taken on the train to Cologne).


Some first Impressions of Germany: 

This is my first trip to Germany (my first trip to Europe as well), so while I had a vague sense of what I might expect, I would clearly have to wait until I got to Germany to actually know what they’re all about.

1. Every car, bus, boat, etc., is either a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes-Benz

2. Everyone seems really friendly

3. Everything (cars, buildings, etc) are smaller or more compact than they are in the states. E.g. A car considered to be small in USA would probably be one of the bigger cars in Germany.

4. On the train from Frankfurt to Cologne, the sights of the hills/mountains and castles are fantastic!

5. This weekend is Karneval, which is apparently taken most seriously in Cologne. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any country as a whole so excited about a parade!

6. Cologne’s Cathedral is incredible.


Tomorrow, I believe that I, with the rest of the city, will be watching a parade and partying for a lot of the day.  Afterwards, the goal is to move into the room I’ll be staying in for the rest of my stay while studying and get things settled with the University of Cologne (where I’m studying). 

Until next time, Tschüss!