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!