Holy free time, Batman! What to do now?
What with the copious amounts of free time I find on my hands, I have time to pursue learning on my own terms, and I come to the question – how do I learn on my own? I certainly found strategies that worked for me in higher education, came to understand how I study for tests, practiced various techniques for analyzing literature, learned how to cram, realized how I best memorize (Flashcard City, USA, let me tell you!) … but outside of academia, there is no set syllabus. There is no assigned reading list, no deadline, no course goals or learning outcomes, and without this top-down structure, I must then create my own structure for learning. Most importantly, however, I must begin with an assessment of my own values and my own interests, and come to determine my own learning outcomes, which is a trying task of reflection.
At present, I am reading 4 books at the same time, which I have not had time to do in ages, and I find it lovely, but I also find myself grasping at straws – what do I really want to learn? The question “What should I be learning?” creeps in, again, in this professor-type of voice, telling me what I should be learning, why, and how I should do it. I find it oddly disconcerting that I have not critically thought about my own interests and deeply held values in the pursuit of knowledge, have not yet really hashed them out, but it is important work, and it is work I am beginning to undertake. It’s slow going – and I am trying to be patient with myself. Patience is Mr. Big Challenge #2.
Sometimes I am disinclined to attend events. I suppose some things sound boring, and I just don’t want to go to them. Surprise, surprise. Then again, you know what they say about “assuming” and what that makes you. But! Inspired by a fellow Fulbrighter’s blog, I decided to say “yes” to something I had not anticipated to be awesome, and I am sure glad I went. This thing was “Richtfest.” A Richtfest, as I learned, is a celebration of the finishing of the roof of a new building. And boy howdy, is it!
Long story short: There was music, food, kids, teachers, beers, and spent a good 20 minutes talking to the town mayor. How cool is that? Aber weiter gehen…
Long story long:
You see, my Gymnasium is in the process of adding on a new building due to overcrowding – building a quite lovely, technology-equipped building costing a hefty sum of €7,5 Million-to-build kind of building, mind you. I didn’t think much of it initially, but upon arrival, I was confronted with a full set of long tables, lots of students, several Gymnasium teachers, a rock band, the town mayor, food, and beers. What now, brown cow? The ceremony began with a few speeches from the mayor, the vice-principal, the construction over-seer, and then los geht’s – time to celebrate! The band played a few times, with one of the teachers on keyboard – acting as conductor – then outside we went, where two of the construction workers read a poem on one of the scaffolds, which turned out to be quite a silly poem, indeed, all the while the worker drank champagne – and classically, after the poem was finished he tossed the glass down for it to smash on the ground and then, let’s party this half-finished building down!
We lined up for the food (all behind a crowd of school kids), snagged a few Biere, and in this fashion I got to know my colleagues a bit better. Throughout the evening we attempted to vergleich (compare) the Richtfest, which apparently has been going on since the middle ages, with celebrations in the States – a “barn raising?” No, not quite that… A ship being “baptized” with the smashing of a champagne bottle? Wait, “christened?” Perhaps… But at the end of it all, we all had a very nice time shooting the breeze, and I had a good chunk of time to chat with the mayor, describing my position at the Gymnasium and my overall goals for my time here. Forgot to mention a few things I hope to accomplish in giving back to the community (i.e. my hope to begin a community “Stammtisch” where I offer a time for locals to meet with me at a regular time and place to practice English conversation) but as I hear the mayor is a real personable guy, perhaps I can just swing by his office soon and suggest the idea.
On a completely unrelated and albeit silly note – methinks that it’s okay to talk with your mouth full here. On several occasions I have found myself surprised that a coworker, while chatting with me, will take a bite and just keep on going. No hand over the mouth, no “hold on a minute” finger in the air which indicates “oh, excuse me just a moment while I chew, I’ll get right back to that point I was making as soon as I swallow…” Nope. They just keep trucking on through it. At one point, while I was talking with an acquaintance, I took a massive bite of (naturally) a hearty piece of bread and closed my mouth, chewing, all the while the German acquaintance of mine looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to finish my point. After a beat, then another beat: “Oh yes,” he commented, “you don’t talk while you are chewing.” Perhaps I am yet off-base in my observations, mal schauen. And I will say, I am all for trying on the new-culture shoes to see if they fit, but frankly, I feel just too darn embarrassed to show the half-chewed food in my mouth. Is that so wrong? If it is, then I’ll be wrong as rain, and that’s fine with me!
As of this last Monday, I have officially taken over an English conversation class for a local business, as encouraged by a colleague of mine at the Gymnasium. I will be showing up every Monday with topics intended to engage the business people in English conversation to further their practice in the said “lingua franca.” Just had my meeting Saturday with the head of the institute that will be paying me for leading this group, and it sounds like quite the opportunity, and so far, so good with my first Monday meeting! More updates on how this goes. Also, please trust I will be letting all you fellow Fulbrighters know about how the bureaucratic process works in regard to working for €€€ outside of the Stipendium. It’s under €400 a month, so I should be vegan-kosher, but I will be sure to give you the scoop.
So, yes, I have been traveling around a lot on the weekends. But! This weekend I stayed in the host city. Saturday I had my meeting with the English institute head that I will be working with, of course, and after that, I spent my day walking around unfamiliar parts of my town, and later (when the sun came out) finishing up Into the Wild over a few Hefeweisens on the Marktplatz. Spoiler alert: Chris McCandless dies. Wah, wah. (But you already knew that).
Should Probably Join a Verein….
Because I am silly and lonely. That’s what the head of the institute suggested, spurned by a conversation which started with the question, “So, are you getting to know people?” My answer, despite being a social animal: “Erm, uhh, wellll… No.” His response: “Ja, es ist aber schwierig hier, Leute kennen zu lernen” (it’s hard to get to know people here). Which reaffirmed everything I already know. But he informed me that Vereine (clubs/organizations/societies) are THE thing here in Germany, and it is his recommended route to getting to know folks around here. Now, they are usually centered around sports, he said – and what sport am I good at? Answer: “None.” – but he said they are welcoming to the beginning player of Sport ___. So, with his hand drawn map to the local Verein administrative office in my hand, I journey onward into the midst in search of German companions (that will probably make fun of my soccer skillz, but hey, I can handle a bit of ribbing over a few beers).
In short: What a nice coworker I have! A teacher at the school invited me this last week to have breakfast with her and her family on Sunday at 9:30am. A little early for my don’t-wake-me-I’ll-kill-you ways on Sundays, but I was naturally happy to have the invitation, curious how it would go, and excited to meet new folks. So around 9:00am, I use the hand-drawn map she gave me to take the 1/2 hr trek to her house. Something about going across the “Sport Insel,” something about crossing a wood bridge, then you come to a gas station, then there’s some hilly neighborhood – go past that – and find the house with the trees in the middle of the field and make sure you enter from the rear. Riiight, got it! Most of the way there, I met her son, who had scootered down the hill to meet me, and we chatted in the misty morning in German as we headed the rest of the way up the hill to her house. The kid took a liking to me real quick, and me to him! We get there, at which point I am greeted by her two other children and partner, and we all chat in the kitchen as her partner makes me cafe with crema and the littlest one impatiently stares at the bread on the table and comments about how huuuunngrrry he is. So at the table we sit, exchanging mostly in German, but her and her partner want to practice their English today, so we did that. The plan goes as follows: They show me a nearby city, Ravensburg, and then we drive off in search of an apple tree my colleague saw at a seminar that has lots of tasty apples for the picking. And that we did! (Except the oldest son – he had some guitar to play in lieu of family time, as I understand it).
Ravensburg is a very lovely city with many, many very, very tall towers built in the middle ages, and we took our own tour of the 95% closed shops and restaurants and Fachwerk buldings and towers until we found the car again, and drove off towards somewhere nearby the Bodensee to find the apple tree. We spent a good 2-3 hours picking apples in the misty, chilly day, a very lovely spot surrounded by meadows and forest with the hint of fall orange, and about 1000 Kg of apples later we drove back to her place, at which point Kaffee and Kuchen (coffee and cake) was served. Her partner was very fascinated by Native American culture, and talked my ear off about his visit to Eugene, OR where he spent time with a native tribe (never caught which one), learned about native practices, and met one N.A. man in particular who he said I should get in contact with when I return to the States, a buddy of his.
On Sunday I got home around 7:00pm, and relished in my roughly 10-15 pound share of apples from the day. Tomorrow my roomies and I have decided to make an apple pie from scratch, but I suppose we must first invent the universe. I have never made apple pie from scratch before (how un-American!). Mal schauen, wie es geht!
Ideas for the Days Ahead
- I want to do an exchange with the community, somewhat of a “Stammtisch” for English. A place, day and time where Perhaps I should stop by the mayor’s office, considering we are officially acquaintances now. What say you?
- I want to do an exchange with an American high school class, preferably European Studies, where we can Skype and I can impart knowledge from my experience here to students in the States. They can ask questions which I can investigate, etc. How awesome would that be?! (Inspired by a certain Capstone some of you may be familiar with…. wink!)
- The latest approach to being an active part of my Gymnasium: Make a presentation, and just present it to a lot of classes. This seems to be the best plan. Completed: Lesson Plan (for multiple levels) on the American School System. Almost Completed: Lesson Plan (for multiple levels) on Halloween. I will add this soon to the “Teaching” tab. Upcoming: A presentation on my home state/city. Now that one is the difficult one! How does one sum-up their home in interesting points and also engage the students in active learning/conversation as much as possible? Suggestions welcome!
- Question: Do students at my Gymnasium have an American pen pal? Maybe there are possibilities for this, perhaps with my high school! Or another high school. I’m open!
- Begin to address “Wandern” in German culture. These folks like some hiking, let me tell you. And they do it a bit differently, as I’ve learned. More on this soon!
- Critical self-inquiry. It’s just a thing.
- Today (Tuesday) at my English Conversation club, my colleague’s daughter asked me if I was coming over again. Answer: “Yes, of course, if I’m invited! I had a fun day with you all!” She was glad to hear that, and so on, and then indicated her little brother was very excited about my proposal to build a basketball hoop together and play basketball. Therefore, the next Big Idea: Build a basketball hoop and play basketball with my colleague’s son. Big Idea #2: Teach him how to slam dunk.
In closing – albeit if I’m not already getting homesick. Multiple times it struck me today, “oh, holy cow, I’m living in Germany, How the heck did THAT happen??” … And then I remember how.