Monday, October 18, 2010

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.”

The German school system is pretty confusing so let me start by explaining how it works. There are 3 types of "high schools" here. Depending on your academic ability (and a few other deciding factors) in fourth grade you either continue in a Gymnasium, Realschule or Hauptschule. To go to a German University (which is usually free) you need an Abitur, which you can only get by graduating from a Gymnasium. As an exchange student, you are always placed in Gymnasium (lucky us).
So on to the first week of German school. Monday (the day I posted about in the last post) was a little crazy but things definitely calmed down since then. There are still some classes that are somewhat out of control but I guess that's how it is in American schools too. The way my schedule works (and the normal German schedule) is that you only take on average 4 or 5 classes a day. The classes switch everyday so it's always different. On Tuesday we had art and even though my drawing skills are basically non-existent it was nice to understand what was going on. Math I actually understood and was actually able to the do the work.
On Wednesday we start with an hour and a half of Religion. You can choose to go to Evangelische (Protestant), Katholische (Catholic) or Ethics. Ethics is the choice for people who are neither Protestant or Catholic and they basically teach morality and ethics. I chose to go to Evangelische and luckily most of my friends here go to the same class. We studied Judaism between the World Wars (not entirely sure what that has to do with Protestants but it was really interesting. Also I understood what was going on so that was a major plus. Then we had lunch and in my school you can either eat at the cafeteria or walk into town and buy something from the baker or a Döner, which isn't actually German but it is amazing. After lunch we had Biology. I understood about 1/3 of what was going on (they were talking about Neuron Receptors and what happens when you introduce poison to your body). The teacher passed out an article and told everyone to read it but she said I didn't have to read it because I didn't understand it. So I figured I would flip through the Bio book so I wasn't just sitting there doing nothing. About halfway through the class the teacher walked over and asked/yelled at me because I wasn't reading the article. I gave her this blank stare partly because I couldn't understand exactly what she was saying and partly because she told me I didn't have to read it. After she saw that I had no idea what was going on, she remembered that I am the American Exchange student who speaks only broken German. So then she apologized and carried on with class.
On Thursday we had Physik which I understood more than I thought I would (but still not nearly enough) and I actually took some good notes. Then we had an hour of German, which is one class that is seriously out of control. In German school, you stay with the same class all day but switch teachers for each subject so it's not the group that's out of control because they behave in every class except German. We had to read an article called "Ist Deutsch Noch Sexy?"
(Is German still sexy?). It was about how much English has made it's way into Germany. The example I found interesting was Lufthansa, the German airline. Their slogan is "there is no better way to fly", even though they are a German airline, their slogan is in English. After German we had lunch and then Chemistry. Chemistry I understood absolutely nothing in. We were learning about the Periodic Table (the elements have different names in German by the way) and I was thinking "why can't I understand what's going on, usually I can at least get the idea they are learning" but no I didn't even understand that. About halfway through the class he asks me a question and once again I responded with a blank stare. He then responded with "Oh you're the exchange student, oh I guess that means I have to speak High German with now.". Yeah, he was speaking Swabian (the local dialect) and that's why I understood nothing. Then he started to teach the Chemistry lesson in English but the other students didn't appreciate it as much as I did so he switched to High German. Later that day, while explaining this story to my host mom, I said "He teached us in Swabian", that right there is how you know your English is failing. I don't know if I should be glad that my English is getting progressively worse and maybe my German is getting better or sad that my English is failing before I have to take the SAT in about a month and a half.
Friday was a good day, we had just math. Seeing as I only had one subject, I got out of school at about 9:15. The rest of the day I was free to do whatever I want. The other kids from Altdorf asked me if I needed a ride home so I hung out with them for a while and then we went home.
On Sunday there was an AFS event with all of the other exchange students in my area. We all went to a hot spring and swam. The water is this fresh water pumped in from a hot spring deep underground. The water contains sulfur so basically it reeks and tastes gross. Part of the pool was outside and since the air was freezing but the water about 80 degrees, there was a layer of fog above the pool which was pretty cool. Also it was raining so it was basically the weirdest swimming I have ever done (I can't decide if that is proper grammar or not).
Today I had English, German and Gym so I understood most of today and it was a pretty easy day. Also my class is taking a trip to Berlin in June which I might be going on. It's still a maybe though because it has to be approved by AFS.
Before we left AFS gave us some warnings about Germany. The two main ones being that the people are not overly friendly at first and that you have to work hard before they will open up and be friendly with you. The second one is that most Germans have amazing English and they will want to speak to you only in English so you have to repeatedly tell them to use German. The first one is incredibly false, the first month here I didn't know many Germans because I was in a language with mostly foreigners but my host family was not cold or standoffish at all. Then at the Orientation a few weekends ago they said it was mostly the Swabian people who are cold and standoffish and I thought okay my host family isn't really Swabian so I guess that makes sense. So then on the first day of school everyone was so friendly, talkative and welcoming. So I don't know how true those are. The second warning was partly true, Germans speak English very well. Almost everyone is conversational and most of the people are advanced speakers. The part about them wanting to speak only English, also false. They all insist that I speak German so that my German improves (which I appreciate because I really want my German to get better). In school when one of them tries to speak English the others all interrupt and tell him/her to speak in German so I get better. Those were two instances where I am glad that AFS' warnings weren't true.

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