From Baden Württemberg to Nordrhein Westfalen: reflecting upon Heidelberg

I’m not sure if anyone actually regularly checks/reads/follows my blog other than my grandparents, but if you have been, you might be wondering:What happened to misspraxic? Where did she go!? We haven’t heard anything from her for nearly three weeks! Did she get lost wandering around in another German forest?

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The answer is not quite! Though just about everything else has happened.

My last day at Heidelberg was a special one. We all met (my classmates and teachers) in the morning for breakfast at a café together. The breakfast buffet was delicious and lasted two hours – I don’t think anyone really wanted to leave the experience behind! Certificates were handed out. I passed my course test with a good mark, too, which raised my spirits further.

Afterwards, to mark the end of four valuable weeks spent at Heidelberg University Summer School, I met my parents in the middle of the Old Bridge. As in a film it was a dramatic meeting – I longed for some familiarity, so it was wonderful to be able to catch up with them again. P7310084.JPG

We spent two more nights in Heidelberg which helped me to relax and enjoy time with my parents before setting off again in the direction of the Bundesland (federal state) Nordrhein-Westfalen. We drove through Rheinland-Pfalz and stopped just outside of Koblenz – an ancient city where the rivers Rhine and Moselle come together. Impressive vineyards stretched for miles, and though we didn’t break the journey for long, we were lucky for the weather!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The following day we arrived in the middle of nowhere, at a conference hotel east of Cologne. I would spend the three/four days before the start of my placement here, in order to take part in a compulsory training course on how to teach English in Germany. I felt a mix of melancholy and nostalgia: No two experiences are ever going to be the same. That’s hard to accept after an amazing experience in one place: you inevitably set expectations and hopes for the next adventure.

The training days were sadly entirely directed in English. It might sound odd, but I honestly longed to hear some German after speaking little but German on my summer course. The conference was set in a rural location, which really appealed to me – tall trees, fields, streams and ponies surrounding us. It could have been my English home. I appreciated the change in the countryside from south to north – like in England, this is significantly different in each region.tagungsstatte

Following this training course, I travelled directly to my town west of Düsseldorf, where I am starting work as a Language Assistant. That means teaching English to children/young people aged 9-19 at an inclusive comprehensive school (a Gesamtschule). I want to talk more about this specific kind of German school in a future post.

I now feel settled into the school thanks to my mentor, teaching staff, and chatty landlady who have all made me feel so welcome, though it hasn’t been easy… I’m aware I keep my blog posts largely very positive, but here are some of the very realistic challenges from the last two weeks: Having to sign and scan hundreds of superfluous forms that really state the same things, setting up a bank account, registering as a citizen British expat and getting grilled by the Passport Office manager on the consequences of Brexit, not having WiFI in my accommodation, having to set up my own mobile data, registering a German SIM card for a phone without WiFi (Teufelskreis=vicious circle), being shouted at by impatient bus drivers for not validating travel tickets properly, travelling in the wrong direction on buses, getting lost in a small school building, panicking in supermarkets because the cashier moves to fast to keep up with… 

As always, I can’t help rambling! But I’ll write more soon. The good news is that all of the above has been fixed… let the next challenges hit me.

Bis bald,

misspraxic

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Heidelberg: grammar, missing trams, boat trips, singing in German, and more grammar

I’m a week and a half down, and I feel like I am learning so much. I have never taken part in such an international project/summer school before: it is a wonderful experience to be meeting so many different people from all over the world.

At school I always felt “weird” for loving languages – I just didn’t fit in. In my language class at Heidelberg, there are no other Brits – but students from France, Germany, Spain, Finland, Israel, Chinese, Poland, Japan, India, Russia, and so on. And I feel like I fit in! People have been friendly and warm towards me, and an enthusiasm for German language and culture unites everyone.

Cultural-Iceberg-2The language lessons are intense: three hours every morning (grammar, comprehension, listening exercises, discussions). It is often a challenge to keep up with everything, but nevertheless I feel myself thinking in German most of the time. I have even dreamt in German. As well as learning more about German culture, it fascinates me to learn how things work differently in other countries and continents, just from having conversations with fellow students. I’m reminded of this ‘cultural iceberg‘ diagram [left] – language is so important because it manifests itself in culture and how we think.

After the initial panic of having to take a tram and a bus to the university from my apartment, I am now also getting used to the transport system… Despite admittedly taking the wrong tram heading for the completely wrong direction once… (but it wasn’t so bad – I ended up meeting an interesting elderly Albanian woman who helped me find my way. She talked to me for the whole journey in an intriguing mix of what I recognised as Albanian, Italian, English and a bit of German. But I think I got the gist.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having come from a rural area without regular buses, I appreciate the reliability of buses arriving every ten/twenty minutes. Equally, however, missing the bus because I arrived at the bus stop one minute early/on time is new for me – only in Germany.

The International Summer School has organised some extra activities for us to take part in. Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely would never get into sport, but I have joined the singing group – really enjoying singing in a big group with new people, and of course in German (a range of pieces, from “Volkslieder” to modern pop). It’s helping my pronunciation as well as confidence!

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In the limited spare time there has been, when there hasn’t been grammar homework to puzzle over, I went on a great boat trip on the river Neckar with my classmates. It lasted four(!) hours – the views were wonderful, and I got to know some more new people. This weekend I was also able to visit Heidelberg Castle for the first time, with a friend I haven’t seen for three years (she knows who she is)! We went for a walk along the Philosophenweg where we found a peaceful, pretty little garden in memory of the writer Joseph von Eichendorff (whose works I studied this year at University).

I wonder what the next days will bring!

Bis bald,

misspraxic