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Link from this blog to another

Hello all!

I don’t tend to use this blog very much anymore (just about out of my allotted space in terms of content!) but I wanted to share a link to a blog I posted for the University of Victoria’s German Department: https://onlineacademiccommunity.uvic.ca/germanicslavic/2015/08/19/robyn-gray-my-work-as-a-fremdsprachassistentin-in-berlin-as-part-of-the-p-a-d-program/

This link leads to a blog I wrote about my year-long experience in Germany, as a way to offer context for students that would potentially like to spend a year there in the way I did. I absolutely recommend a year away like this for anyone – it was a life-changing experience!

Thank you so much for checking out this blog! If you would like to hear more from me, I occasionally post to the following blog: https://thebagpippinlibrarian.wordpress.com/ – it’s basically the same content, but more based on my love of libraries and my journey through the Master of Library and Information Studies program at Dalhousie University.

Aufwiedersehen!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Summarizing an Unforgettable Year in Germany

Hello All!
I am currently writing this entry on the airplane from Frankfurt to Calgary, after experiencing a very stressful morning sprinting between gates in Frankfurt. I have made a discovery while on this flight: if you have 8 hours with no internet access and minimal other distractions, blog writing gets a heck of a lot faster!
I could tell I was on a flight to Canada when I noticed someone wearing a lululemon t-shirt at the airport: I have been going to the gym in Berlin for 9 months and haven’t seen a single item of clothing from there. It’s a bit strange to be surrounded by English speakers again, since now I can understand every bit of chatter going on around me. I had gotten used to only understanding bits and pieces of what people said in nearby conversations, since it was always out of context. However, I have had a few conversations with Germans in today’s flights, and I feel that I am way more confident now that I would have been in September. Learning a language is basically an endless process, but I like to think that I am as fluent as I hoped to be when I began taking German classes three years ago.
I set out to write this particular blog entry as a summary of what I have experienced this year. It feels as though my time here has flown by, and yet when I look back at everything I’ve done, it feels like I’ve been here for an eternity. I know that it is practically impossible to summarize my experiences completely, so I’ll try to keep it brief. (Upon my completing this blog and transferring it to wordpress, I must admit that it is anything but brief. Prepare yourself!)
At the end of August 2013, I gathered my courage and boarded a plane to Berlin for nine months away from home. Unlike a lot of people who take on courageous new adventures, I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend waiting for me at the arrival gate. We spent three days in Berlin before driving to Köln (Cologne) so that I could begin my orientation for a year of working at a German High School. I had been part of an orientation the summer before, and was expecting a miniscule group of students; instead, I met hundreds of people from around the world, and got to bask in accents from Ireland, England, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia. Everyone was welcoming and friendly towards everyone else, and I created a group of lifelong friends. The people from that orientation that I have stayed in touch with has changed over the year; while about 15 of us went to Oktoberfest together, there are about six of us that have remained close. However, I like to think that there are many people that would get in touch with me if they ever came to Canada, and this orientation had a much larger influence on my year than I would have ever expected

German Orientation 410  German Orientation 433 German Orientation 480.

My work contract ran from September 1st to May 30th. In the first month, Sebastien helped me to deal with technicalities such as obtaining a bank account, registering where I lived, obtaining my proper visa, and joining a gym. Beginnings have always made me panic a bit, but everything went very smoothly. The other day, I was able to cancel my bank account without any issues (I like to think “I’m moving back to Canada” is a great reason to give for cancelling a bank account!) and Seb had the foresight to store my moving-out documents in a place where we could easily find them and send them to the right people once I left.
The end of September resulted in a slew of Oktoberfest activities – I went to an Oktoberfest in Berlin for two separate weekends, and also spent three days at an Oktoberfest in Munich. For the longest time, I didn’t think the trip to Munich would happen, because of the expense and the fact that there was hardly anywhere to stay. But thanks to the research of one of my British friends, we were able to pull it off by staying in tents and going during the week instead of on a weekend. The experience was unforgettable (feel free to read my blog all about it, if you haven’t already!) although I don’t think I will ever need to repeat it. Sleeping in a tent in October is not necessarily the nicest experience, and it was amazing how good it felt to sit on a cushioned bus seat instead of a hard bench by the end.
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Since the first two weeks in October were a holiday for High School Students, Sebastien and I took the chance to take a short trip. We had a lot of different options in mind, but settled on Barcelona, Spain. We spent almost three days there, and were able to pack in lots of sightseeing. We hiked to a few good viewpoints, walked through the narrow streets, went to the beach, and enjoyed the fantastic weather. It was a great vacation for the two of us, and ironically enough it was one of the few chances we had to take a mid-week trip together (after that, I would either have work or he would have school).
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At the end of October, I was feeling slightly depressed about missing out on Halloween, but was in for a treat when Sebastien and I went to a German Halloween Nightclub Event. I had always heard that Germans were not as much into Halloween as Americans are, but in general their concept is quite different. Instead of a mixture of all sorts of costumes, the Germans who chose to dress up were all gruesome and frightening. With fake eye-contacts and more fake blood than you can imagine, and a mixture of stapled-on faces and torn wedding dresses, it was obvious that they take their costumes very seriously. It was certainly different from any Canadian Halloween I had experienced!
At the beginning of November, Sebastien and I took a road-trip using his parents’ car. Our first stop was the city of Weimar, where we were able to see the amazing Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek. After that, we continued on to Erfurt for two nights, during which time we went on a hike and were able to walk around the city at night enjoying the sights. The slight nip in the air by then, along with the gradual setting up of Christmas markets, made me start to get excited for the holidays. The next day, we continued on to Eisenach and the fortress at Wartburg where we were able to see where Martin Luther once spent time while translating the bible. I had visited these places once before with my eleventh grade class, but this trip was different – not just because it was only two of us instead of 110, but also because I had learned a lot more about history by that point.

Road Trip 2013 October 025 Road Trip 2013 October 029   Road Trip 2013 October 204  Road Trip 2013 October 234  Road Trip 2013 October 307    Road Trip 2013 October 380 Road Trip 2013 October 402
When I first arrived in Berlin, I had joined an orchestra with Sebastien’s mother, playing the double bass. I had not played this since High School, and even then it was only in jazz bands as opposed to with a bow in an Orchestra. Early in November, this Orchestra hosted a Christmas concert. I played my bagpipes for one song, and managed to keep up with the band on my bass for the rest. It’s been quite a while since I performed, and I forgot the satisfying thrill that comes with playing for an audience. I was presented with flowers at the end, and was so happy to have had this chance to play music.
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I was also asked to play my bagpipes for the Christmas concert at the school where I worked. I was extremely nervous before the event itself, but had a lot of fun getting involved in activities outside of the classroom. My mom was in town for my actual performance, and she accompanied me for my practices and came with me for dinner before the big show. Her and Sebastien were in the audience for the performance itself, and I was once again exhilarated at the opportunity to perform for such a large audience.
As I just mentioned, the arrival of December coincided with the arrival of my mom in Berlin. It was so great getting to explore all of the Christmas Markets with her, and getting to show her all of the different aspects of my life in Germany. During the second weekend of her visit, we went with Sebastien’s parents to Dresden. While this trip was accompanied with extremely cold weather, it was also an amazing cultural experience. It was easy to get into the Christmas spirit with booths selling handmade goods and glühwein, and we walked around the Christmas Markets for hours. We also got to see a bit of Dresden besides the markets though, with visits to churches and a tour of the Opera House. I was sorry that I would not be with my parents for Christmas Day, but it made a lot more sense for my mom to visit a bit earlier in the month. Flights aren’t very hectic at the beginning of December!
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I loved the Christmas holidays in Berlin. While we have a few Christmas Markets in Canada, they are often indoors and involve pricey, artsy works for sale. The ones in Germany are more about being able to grab a seasonal bite to eat, and getting seasonal decorations and gifts. You hardly ever have to pay entry for Christmas Markets in Berlin, and I went to many notable ones over the month of December. When friends from Calgary visited Berlin, we took them to the scenic Christmas Market at Schloss Charlottenburg (I’m sorry that there isn’t a picture of them here, but we had a terrific time!)
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Christmas with Sebastien’s family came along with its own traditions, including opening presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. Both our house and Sebastien’s parents’ house were warmly decorated for the holidays, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in a new Christmas tradition (although I am looking forward to enjoying my own traditions again this Christmas at home!)
New Year’s Eve in Germany was fairly similar in Canada in regards to the partying…but the major difference was the fireworks! I know that fireworks can be used as a way to celebrate in Canada, but during the few days before the New Year, the purchase of fireworks becomes legal for everyone. Starting early in the day on New Year’s Eve, people start lighting fireworks from sidewalks, street corners, parks, backyards, balconies…our neighbourhood is usually quiet, but you didn’t go long without hearing fireworks all day! We went out to celebrate in the evening, and at midnight the skies went insane. When we went home late that night, there were remnants of fireworks at every step.
The next big event for me was my birthday. Sebastien took me to Tropical Island just outside of Berlin, and we spent the day relaxing inside of a huge, tropical dome. The next day, I was extremely touched by the amount of people that came out to help me celebrate my birthday. Sebastien’s sister also baked me a delicious cake!

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At the beginning of February, Sebastien’s mom and I went to Grüne Woche. This is a yearly event that takes place in a large building, and there are lots of things to see; some rooms sell outdoor goods like fireplaces and watering cans, and there are rooms with huge displays of flowers. There were sections where you could explore different cultural booths, and there were also places featuring animals like sheep, goats, pigs, cats, and dogs. It was a great way to celebrate the fact that Spring was on its way!
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Between November and February, I was able to take part in a German Language Course at Sebastien’s university. In the grand scheme of things, this course was quite short, but I still think that I learned a lot from it. You never know where you’ll learn the words that stick with you, and this course helped me expand my vocabulary a lot. I also think my grammar got a bit better, and in general it was helpful to speak German non-stop for three hours a week (and that’s not counting my Orchestra practices)! I feel like this class was a great bonding experience for everyone involved (there were about 15 students) and it was interesting to meet people from all over the world that had come to Germany for their education. There was one girl that I grew fairly close to, and we continued to get together throughout the rest of my time in Germany.
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Near the end of February, Sebastien and I took a trip to Prague. It was a fairly short trip, but we managed to pack in lots of sightseeing during our time there. Prague is an absolutely gorgeous place, and I loved being able to see a number of historical libraries amongst other sights. We did a fair amount of hiking, and spent a memorable night dancing at Europe’s Largest Night Club. We timed our trip really well, because even in February the city was quite busy – we didn’t want to imagine what it must be like during the warm summer months!
Prague and January in Berlin 132 Prague and January in Berlin 137 Prague and January in Berlin 161  Prague and January in Berlin 178 Prague and January in Berlin 184 Prague and January in Berlin 190 Prague and January in Berlin 191  Prague and January in Berlin 264 Prague and January in Berlin 373 Prague and January in Berlin 402
During a bright and sunny March day, Seb and I took a day trip to Potsdam. Potsdam houses a large historical park (Sanssouci Park), and we enjoyed walking between the different historical buildings. One of these buildings was where the Potsdam Conference was held, where treaties were signed after WWII. Many of the buildings in this park were built for Frederick the Great, who had his summer home there – these buildings include an “orangery” and a Chinese tea room.
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St. Patrick’s Day turned out to be a fairly minimal affair in Berlin. One of my British friends mentioned that there was a St. Patrick’s Day parade going on, and according to the website it was a fairly big event. Seb and I arrived, and found that the parade consisted of the Berlin bagpipe band, along with “St. Patrick” chasing around a big snake (aka: four people under a sheet). There were lots of people walking alongside the parade doing nothing (including us) and the whole thing was slightly silly but still fun. I found out that the Berlin pipeband has a pretty cool bass drum, with the Berlin bear playing pipes.
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At the end of March, my dad arrived for a visit! We took a short trip to Amsterdam, and had a great time there absorbing the culture. We were able to visit both the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, and we came home with lots of cheese and tulips.
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During the rest of Dad’s time in Berlin, we made sure to check out all of the tourist highlights, including the Television Tower and the government building.
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Over the Easter Weekend, Sebastien and I took a short trip to Magdeburg and Leipzig. These towns were quite easy to get to, and it didn’t take very long to see everything that we found interesting there. Both of these cities experienced a phase of historical importance, during which they were as popular as Berlin is now (Magdeburg was first, and then Leipzig). One of my favourite things to see on this trip was the Monument in Leipzig, which was erected in memory of the battle of Napoleon that took place there 200 years ago.
Magdeburg and Leipzig 025 Magdeburg and Leipzig 034 Magdeburg and Leipzig 164 Magdeburg and Leipzig 348
Around Berlin, I was lucky enough to visit a few Easter Markets, which were surprisingly similar to the Christmas Markets. The main difference was the lack of glühwein, and also the weather!
At the beginning of May, I went with Sebastien and a group of others to a Wine Festival going on in Werner, which is a town just outside of Berlin. We went to this festival two weekends in a row, and got to enjoy cheap, fruity wine while taking in the sunshine. There was a stage with live music, and lots of festival foods available. There were also various rides and electronic games, which reminded me of the Calgary Stampede.

Wine Fest May 008 Wine Fest May 019 Wine Fest May 033

The last trip that Sebastien and I were able to take during this amazing year in Berlin was to Usedom Island, just over a week ago. Usedom Island isn’t very well known amongst Americans as far as I know, but to Germans it is a fairly common vacation spot. While Usedom itself is in Germany, the island contains parts of Poland, and we enjoyed going across the border for our dinners while there. We visited Peenemünde, which is where Wernher von Braun and a team of engineers built rockets during WWII. Besides this, we got to enjoy time on sandy beaches, and also got to see lots of farm animals in the small towns on the island. The trip reminded me of all my favourite things about Portree (Isle of Skye, Scotland), Victoria (British Columbia) and Nova Scotia. It was a lovely, relaxing experience for Sebastien and I, and I am so glad that we had the chance to take that trip before I left.
Peenemünde 180Peenemünde 084Peenemünde 345
So what comes next? In four days’ time, I will go to Nova Scotia for a week-long trip with my mom. While there, I am hoping to take a look at the Dalhousie University Campus, since it is where I will be spending my next two years completing my Master’s in Library Studies. I have started a librarian blog, and am hoping to write in there more often from now on.
I have no idea when my next trip to Europe will be, but I am hoping it will be sooner rather than later. I’m having a hard time believing that my nine months there has officially come and gone. It has been an unforgettable year, and my life has been enriched for the experience.
Thank you so much for reading this blog. I am sorry that it went on for so long! I did a fair amount of things over the course of the year that I will never forget. I hope that you enjoyed reading about them as much as I did writing about them.
Liebe grüße,
Robyn

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2014 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Weekend Roadtrip through Small German Cities

Hello Everybody!

Sorry it has taken me so long to get a chance to write this blog! When Sebastien had the day off school last Friday, his parents kindly lent us their car and we took a small weekend trip through Germany. I meant to write about our adventures the moment we got back, but I had my first German exam on Thursday and therefore spent a lot of the week studying! And let’s be honest – when I wasn’t studying or at work, I was knitting. But here’s the blog now!

I’m very lucky to have a strategic planner for a boyfriend. Usually I mention the things I would like to see within a trip, and he makes it all smoothly flow together. His hope for this trip was to take a hike through some hills, and I had said recently that I wanted to return to Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther had spent some time. I visited the castle once before with my high school band, but that was before I had studied Martin Luther in university and come to appreciate his achievements.

So on Friday morning, we drove the three hours to Weimar and spent some time wandering around. Weimar is a city best known for its historical buildings, and its connection to Goethe who was a famous German writer. There is a “Goethe House” which we walked by, but decided not to go inside since it didn’t look overly impressive. Thanks to my slight obsession with libraries, we walked over to the “Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek” soon after our arrival. Apparently this library is extremely popular during “tourist season” and a maximum of 250 visitors are allowed in per day. However, we got lucky and were able to look around! The library belonged to the Duchess Anna Amalia (go figure) and although it burned down in 2004, everything has since been fully restored (although it took until 2007!) The library exhibit began with a portrait of Anna Amalia, in which she is holding a book – this was a fairly unique characteristic for a portrait back in the day. My audio guide was in German though, so forgive me if my facts are slightly wrong.

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To me it looks like she didn’t really know how to properly read a book, but I guess she’s the one with the cool library so I should keep my mouth shut. After that, we went upstairs and saw some video footage of how the library burned down, and the extensive work that was put into restoring everything. There was also a really interesting old clock that kept track of the days of the week, the month, the year, and the time. Maybe the temperature as well, but I’m not sure. Only thing it couldn’t do was take pictures or receive phone calls.

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We got to wear big huge slippers over our shoes to keep the floors clean, and then we entered the library itself. It was absolutely amazing, and I can confidently say that it is the coolest library I have seen to date. I am going to admit that a few of the following photos are actually postcards I bought instead of pictures I took within the library, but that’s just because I couldn’t get the full span of the room with my camera. I was told in the audio guide that I could technically request to take a book to the reading room, which would be incredible considering the age of some of those books. There were portraits and sculptures of historical figures, including Goethe himself. As you can see from some of the photos, there were two floors full of books – and then a third floor that was covered all except for a narrow opening, through which you could look up and see a painting. It’s hard to describe, but I was in awe of it all, and could have spent hours there looking around. 

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After we left the main event, we were able to check out an exhibit detailing the steps involved in using a word press. There were a series of photos detailing how every letter would be strung together in order to make a page, and after that it would go through an elaborate printing process. There were samples of works created through using this process, including “Hamlet” written with a combination of English and German. Each picture would have to be hand carved as well. Hard to believe it used to take such an extreme amount of work to create just one page in an entire book, whereas now we can create huge documents within the space of hours if not minutes!

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After we left the library, we spent a fair bit of time wandering through the town. There was a small German “Weihnachstmarkt” going on that I had seen from the window of the library, but it was pretty small and deserted this early in the season. There were different places where we could buy food, as well as a small ice-skating rink. It makes me excited about the bigger Christmas markets I want to check out as the season goes on!

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We made sure to eat some bratwurst with mustard, because that’s a specialty in Weimar.

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We walked through a park, and saw Goethe’s garden house as well as a mass amount of sheep in an enclosed area. Not really sure how those sheep came to be there, but when we stood still it sounded as though it was raining because the sheep were constantly moving leaves as they munched on the grass.

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As we were getting ready to head back to the car, we saw a group of small children and their parents, carrying lanterns and quietly singing as they walked along the path. Apparently in Germany, it is a tradition that happens every year in November alongside Martinstag (November 11th). Children walk with lanterns and sing, and it scares away evil spirits – or something to that effect. Either way, the kids were adorable, and I got to hear all about how Sebastien and his siblings did the same thing when they were kids while their mother played accordion.                                                                                                   ImageImage

After that, we got back in the car and headed for Erfurt. We checked into our hotel and headed to a Chinese restaurant in the area, and had an early night. The next day, we got up bright and early for our hike. We packed up some banana juice and granola bars, put on our best walking shoes (in my case, running shoes) and drove to Tuphüringer Wald, where we proceeded to climb up Schneekopf. Unfortunately I made a knitting mistake while driving there, so I was a bit anxious about that while we were making the climb.

This was actually my first hike in what seems like forever, so I went into it with minimal expectations. I had taken it for granted that I was not a hiking girl, but Seb continually talked it up for me and made me decide to give it a try. I had expected to be toasty because of all the movement, but in the end it was very good that Seb brought a hat and mittens for me to wear. There had been a heavy storm across Europe a few weeks earlier, and it meant that a bunch of trees had been torn from the ground. Unfortunately one of these trees must have had a path-marker on it, because we ended up taking the wrong way at a fork in a road for lack of sign-age. The way we went wasn’t too bad either and still got us to the same place, but there were a lot of fallen trees we had to climb through, and my feet got massively muddy. When we reached the peak, it was extremely windy, but the view was pretty amazing as well. We were lucky to have a clear day, but it was also pretty chilly! On the way back I was a bit irritated by how cold my wet feet were, but Seb said that normally we would be hiking much earlier in the fall. It took us about four hours in total, and I treated myself to a hot chocolate pretty soon afterwards. All in all, I would say I haven’t been turned into a wilderness woman, but I would be up for more hikes in the future.

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After our hike, we drove back to Erfurt to act like proper tourists. We checked out the two Cathedrals central to the city, and could see the signs of a Weihnachtsmarkt slowly being put together. We then climbed to a great viewpoint, and got to admire the view as darkness settled in.

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While the night was extremely chilly and my poor feet were completely numb, I enjoyed getting to see the city. Being outside when it was chilly made me think of Christmas, and I started getting excited for the holiday season. I also did a bit of shopping at the artsy stores around while Seb patiently waited. Only had one embarrassing moment where my German failed me: the shopkeeper asked me if I was finding everything okay and I answered with no thank you. Wasn’t sure why she looked at me so strangely but I walked out of there quickly and Sebastien explained it later.

The night ended with a hot meal, followed by cozy pajamas and a good sleep. The next day, we headed to Eisenach so that we could see the Wartburg Castle. It was a Sunday so the city was pretty much deserted, but we managed to find a bakery that was open for breakfast. It was exciting to be back in Eisenach after I had travelled there with my grade 11 group, but this time I didn’t check out the church where Bach had been baptized, or his house. Seb and I walked around a little bit, and then drove up to the castle for their English tour. Last time we went there, it had been completely dark and we were only given a sample of the full tour since we were technically there past tourist hours. It had been an impressive view to see all of the city lights, but it was something completely different to see it during a fall day, complete with yellow and red leaves as well as birds in Vs flying south for the winter. The castle itself was interesting to see, although a lot of the artifacts in it were based on speculation instead of exact knowledge. It has an immense amount of history, and Martin Luther’s time in the castle was a very small event in the grand scheme of things. I had a lot of fun thinking back to that trip I took in grade 11. The only flaw about the castle I found was all the construction going on – it made it seem a bit less authentic, and made it obvious how many modern tourist additions have been made. Unfortunately my camera was basically full by the time we reached the castle, so I was unable to take mass amounts of pictures, but I still managed to get “a few”…so feel free to look at all 600 I have posted here.

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After that, Seb and I drove back home. I was unable to spend that time knitting, but since then I think I have discovered the mistake I made. It was a fantastic trip all in all, and it was great that we were able to fit so many interesting things into one weekend!

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you’re all having a great weekend yourselves.

Auf wiedersehen!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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One Month of Teaching Insight

Hello there!

As you may have read in my previous blog entry, I have decided to make an entirely separate blog about my teaching experience in the last few weeks. As much as some of you are interested in hearing about my movie-watching skills and orchestra socialization (to find out more, please read previous blog!) some of you may want to hear how the work itself is going.

So far, I am still absolutely loving my job! The teachers seem to have a better sense now of how to make use of my being in the class. I am often asked to read things out loud, and when people are working in groups they seem to be getting more comfortable with asking me questions. One of my favourite days in the last few weeks was when the grade sevens were doing station work. They had written an exam for the first half of class, so for the second half the teacher set up different activities to help them practice their English. One of these stations was talking to me! I had been given all sorts of conversational prompter cards, but I hardly needed to use them. The students were more than willing to speak with me all about what they did on their weekends, and what their favourite movies and actors are. Sometimes when one of them didn’t know a German word in English, three of them would  have an intense debate about what the English equivalent was – I was very flattered that they wanted me to understand exactly what they were talking about. I loved the one class I’ve had with the grade five students as well – when I first introduced myself, they all raised their hands and asked me questions about my favourite colour and animal, and shared some of their favourites with me. The teacher emphasized that it would be rude to speak German in front of me since I don’t understand the language, and at this point they have better manners in English than I do (they say “may I” instead of “can I”! I forget the last time I remembered that rule!)

I think that one reason I’ve been enjoying working with younger students a bit more than older is that the younger ones are more willing to experiment. The grade sevens will use the words that they know in English to try and get their point across, whereas the grade nines seem more shy about what they don’t know. So, instead of trying out their English, they resort to constantly talking in German – I also often get the sense that they’re showing off for one another, based on their volume and animation in class. But a few days ago, a ninth-grade girl who normally never asks the teacher questions came up to me and asked me something. That pretty much made my day, and I think it indicated how the students are slowly getting more comfortable with speaking to me in English.

It also appears that I will soon get my individual “Conversation Course” up and running. Schools in Germany have a two week holiday in October, and after these are over I will be offering a 90 minute session per week in which students can come and practice English with me. I am unable to give grades, and therefore they are not receiving official credit for this course – so to make them a bit more interested, I have tried to focus on the fact that there will be no homework involved, and they can attend as few or as many times as they like. I have begun writing down different topics of conversation that I think they would find interesting, such as money, pets or nationality. I am planning to begin the first class with an episode of 2 and a Half Men that involves Thanksgiving – I feel that watching TV in English can be such a big help for students trying to become familiarized with the language. From there, I hope it’ll lead into more discussion about other things, such as Canadian Holidays or the misadventures of Charlie Sheen. Or possibly how much worse the kid actor got as the seasons went on. Who knows.

I have made an announcement about this Conversation course to a few classes now, particularly grade nine ones, and people seem to be showing way more interest than I had expected. After announcing it to one grade ten class that hardly ever seems aware that I’m in the room, I had about five kids come and ask me about it. Some would be unable to make it every week because they have a different timetable every alternate week, but I told them that is not a problem. While I am not worried about how few turn up (the fewer students, the more I get to talk individually and get to know them), I am starting to get a bit concerned that there will be too many. But I guess if that happens, I can start to offer the course more than once a week. My only other real concern is the idea that my Canadian technology won’t work and I’ll be left there gaping in front of students, but I guess I have to face that potential nightmare eventually! A lot of these students seem to be better with technology than me these days.

I find it interesting how direct Germans are – not that I should use stereotypes, but it seems more culturally acceptable, whereas Canadians will beat around the bush and be as polite as possible. Teachers have been telling students that if they participate in my Conversation Course a certain amount of times, they will earn a certificate that states they have put in a certain amount of time on their English skills. Today I was approached by a student who could see right through this certificate idea: she figures that it’s useless since it’s not an official Oxford document or anything that you earn through an exam, and universities will not be impressed. However, she is still planning on attending my first class. No pressure on me to provide an entertaining course or anything. The students do have oral examinations at some point though, and I think that this course can only be beneficial to them. Hopefully.

I’m also putting together a presentation on Canada to show the students over the next few weeks, but it seems that my notorious procrastination skills from university are making a comeback. So far I’m covering the topics of Canadian food, movie stars (Rachel McAdams – who knew??), pop stars, animals, and sports – and if I have time, I would like to go into the Canadian high school system. But first, I have to get that whole powerpoint concept under control. If any readers have any ideas of important things I should tell students about Canada, please let me know!

Today, there was an International Conference held at my school, and I was asked to partake because of my English-speaking skills. I believe there were about three groups, and I was shocked to find out how international the participants actually were! There was a teacher from Chile, one from Jamaica, Africa, India, and Paraguay. It was amazing! While the Germam principal of our school was trying to come up with English words using myself and another English teacher, the teachers from Chile and Paraguay were trying to figure out the correct things to say translated from Spanish. These teachers had come all this way to learn about the education system in Germany, and potentially bring some of those ideas back to their systems in their home countries. I found out that Chile classrooms consist of an average 40 people, while some in Paraguay have up to 60! And we thought 32 was a large class size. A lot of the conference examined how students at my school that excel in Science and Math have the chance to take on specialized classes and conduct experiments at certain university facilities. The more that I learn about what this school has to offer, the more I realize how lucky I was to be placed here. Students are really able to thrive in the areas they’re interested in; I work with one English honours class at the tenth grade level, and they’re all talented individuals who are enthusiastic to learn about the language. And the teachers are all dedicated to helping their students have the best experience possible; I never realized until this year how much work and thought a good teacher puts into challenging and provoking students. I had always just thought that they used the curriculum and never gave it a second thought, but it’s fascinating to see teachers from all over the world meeting together just to think about ideas they can bring to their home countries so that they can educate students better.

I told one teacher that I’m amazed at just how much he constantly has to do, he mentioned how the students and teachers have an interesting interaction. There is so much about the students’ lives that teachers will never know, and there is so much more to each teacher than the students know, and they only briefly interact in the classroom for a few hours a week. And yet school is such a huge part of a student’s life, and teachers spend so much energy working to educate students better. It’s all so interesting to me, after having spent so much time on the student’s side of things! One interesting observation from the teacher’s side of things was seeing a teacher pass out a new novel for students to read, and everyone groans…at first I thought “wow, really? One little book to read is an issue?” but then I remembered that this book was probably on top of six other classes worth of work they were expected to do. However, I did see one girl light up when they were assigned the book, and I’m pretty sure I recognized the grade-nine-me brought back to life.

Anyways. In my opinion, I still don’t think that being a teacher would be a great career for me. Students don’t always appreciate the effort you put in for them, and they have pretty short attention spans. But as much as I used to figure marking homework would be a terrible activity, I’ve enjoyed reading over a few students’ work and making (what I think are) helpful suggestions. I can also understand how the instances of students showing enthusiasm about what you’re teaching them can make it all worth it. But I think that the position I’m in right now is pretty ideal: I can help the students where it’s needed, but I’m not the one at the front of the class all day every day. I’ve been asking a bit more about if I can potentially volunteer in a library while I’m here, but I don’t like to ask too often since teachers already have an insane amount of things to do. I’m not sure if it’ll be plausible at this point, but you never know!

I think I have gone on enough about work for now. Thank you so much for reading my thoughts and reflections. Perhaps there were a few “duh” statements in there, but I hope you enjoyed it!

Bis zum nächsten Mal!

-Robyn

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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Off to Explore the European Working World

Hey there!

For those of you that know me, you will probably know that my European adventure is fast approaching. By 7:30pm tomorrow, I will be on a plane headed to Berlin, Germany, in preparation of my beginning work as an assistant English teacher. I have been anticipating this adventure for so long, that I can hardly believe the time is finally here!

Writing this is bringing back a ton of memories to the very first time I wrote for this blog. It was about 11pm the day before I took off to Germany for 3 months, and I figured that it would be a great way to record all of my adventures. I have learned a lot of things since that first trip: for one thing, a three month trip is extremely different from going to Germany for 5 weeks. I had never realized how proud I was of being a Canadian until I was away from home for that long. I also missed home more than I expected to, although the experience was definitely amazing. I have also learned that, for me to finally speak German flawlessly, I have to stop allowing people to talk to me in English. Last year I kept expecting my language skills to magically improve themselves, but it is definitely going to take some intense work! And most importantly, I learned that there are a fair amount of people that enjoy reading all about my adventures. I thank you all so much for encouraging me to continue writing, and I strive to create something worth your time!

Sebastien and I inside the Berliner Dom :)

Sebastien and I inside the Berliner Dom 🙂

This time, as I am going for 9 months, I am quite nervous…it sure is a long time to be away from home with no visits! But I’m enjoying this moment of not knowing what exactly is to come, and looking forward to the moment when I look back and see how much I’ve learned. Never stop growing, right?

But anyhow, let me fill you in on what I do know at this point! I will be working at a High School in Germany, which teaches students from grades 7-12. I imagine I will be working with the older kids, who could enjoy hearing someone with a Canadian accent instead of a German one. I am bringing both my bagpipes and my smallpipes to Germany, and may use my big bagpipes as a threatening tool whenever the class gets out of hand. “Settle down, or so help me I’ll play a tune!” I’ve also been taking pictures of various Canadian things throughout this summer to show the students: playing with my pipebands, working at the Stampede,and driving through the mountains. My job will require an hour-long commute there and back, every day, during which time I intend on reading my heart out. I’m bringing lots of books with me, and once I finish them I would love to attempt to read a few German children’s books.

Me playing my lovely new smallpipes :)

Me playing my lovely new smallpipes 🙂

I arrive in Berlin on August 23rd, and on the 25th Sebastien and I will begin driving to Cologne (Köln). We will be making a stop at the Köln Zoo, where we can check out the awesome hippos there (in case you didn’t know, they’re my favourite animal!) On the 26th I will meet up with a group of people also participating in the P.A.D program, and we will be transported from the Köln Central Station to a spot near Bonn, where we will have orientation for 2 days. I really hope I am able to find the group, instead of wandering by them aimlessly three times like I did with my group last year. On the 28th, I will take a train back to Berlin, as long as I do not end up hopelessly lost. And on August 30th, the real work begins!

I am really excited for when I form a routine with my job, and know what is what. I would love to take a German course if I can this year, perhaps through a program at Sebastien’s university. I would also love to visit a few other places if I get the chance, such as Portugal and perhaps the UK. It would be awesome if I could attend a bagpiping competition in Scotland at some point, although I am not bringing a uniform with me so that would be a bit of a gongshow.

Besides that, I am certainly excited for all of my visitors! My mom is planning on visiting me in November, and my dad in March. A few piping friends will likely pay me a visit in December, so I’m looking forward to that! I’ve had a fantastic summer at home, playing with both the Cochrane Pipeband and the Rocky Mountain Pipeband – it makes me hesitant to leave, but as my various friends are going back to school in Victoria or beginning their big-kid jobs in the real world, I’m getting more and more excited to begin this adventure.

Me showing off Canadian culture :)

Me showing off Canadian culture 🙂

Well, there you go. A taste of what is to come, and hopefully enough to keep you interested!

Bis später,

Robyn

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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