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Celebrating Spring and Science (and Wine!)

Hello All!

It has been quite a while since my last post, and for this I apologize. After the whirlwind of travelling adventures that took place in April, May has slowed down a bit. However, I’ve still been up to lots of entertaining activities, so I shall take advantage of this blog to write about them!

For quite a few years now, Sebastien has attended a Wine Festival just outside of Berlin during a weekend in late April/early May. I often get to hear about the Wine Festival, but have always been unable to attend thanks to living in Canada. But like so many other things I have finally been able to partake in this year, I was able to come to the Wine Festival! A group of us (some of Sebastien’s friends, along with one of my good friends from England), took the Regional train out to the small town of Werder, where the festival takes place. Apparently this town is extremely quiet for most of the year, but during the festival it goes insane. Reminds me a bit of the Canmore Highland Games in that way, except that the festival goes on for multiple weekends.

The proper name of this festival is “Baumblütenfest,” and it is primarily a celebration of Spring and blooming flowers. A large part of the festival is the fruit-flavoured wine. When we first got off the train in Werder, there was a wine stand selling 1 litre bottles for 5 euros. They had tasty flavours like raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, cherry, and pear. Sebastien and his group knew to stop and pick up a bottle here, because everywhere else within the festival was selling the bottles for a minimum of 6 euros. By this point, it was about 11am – perfect time for a bottle of cherry wine!

It was quite a long walk from the train station to the area where the primary festival takes place. We walked along a main residential street, and eventually stands started appearing along the sides of the road.

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There had been a lot of people on the train, and as everyone moved towards the festival, the streets got continually more crowded. Once we were in Werder’s more commercial area, there were lots of shops everywhere. Mostly they were selling different foods and drinks, but there were some shops selling jewelry, clothes or other hand-made knick-knacks. I was ecstatic to see that they were selling langos (a thin dough deep-fried and then loaded up with toppings like garlic and sour cream) but didn’t get one on that particular day.

After walking for a while, we eventually crossed a bridge that lead to most of the main events. We veered off to the right, where there were a lot of various rides and games for children (very much like the Calgary Stampede) and we found an area of grass to sit and relax on by the water.

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We hung out here for quite a while, and enjoyed the sunshine. We had been under the impression that the day would be rainy, so it was a pleasant surprise to see blue sky (even if that did mean I was boiling in my waterproof layers!)

After this, we went across to a more adult-themed area of the festival. At this spot, there was a stage where live performances were going on (which would turn into DJ performances during the evening) and there were picnic tables to sit at. The thing that made this an “adult-themed area” was the increase in alcohol-selling booths, and the only ride around there was a crane from which people could bungee jump over the water for 50 euros. Come to think of it, there were also bumper boats, but the bungee jumping was a more noticeable attraction.

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Sorry for all of the pictures all at once! But as you can see, the bungee-jumping crane was situated behind the stage – the picture I took from close up was near the washrooms.

For our first time at the festival, we didn’t stay all that late into the evening. But we decided to go back the next weekend, and once again lucked out on the weather. There were a few different people on the second outing, but we still had a great time. The primary difference between the first and second visits was that I got to enjoy a langos, and we stayed later into the night and danced in front of the stage for quite a while.

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One of the things I love most about Berlin is all of the outdoor events. In the future, I would love to plan trips to Germany around the beginning of December, because that’s when the Christmas Markets are all beginning, but aren’t too full yet. And the Christmas Markets are pretty legendary!

Similarly, there are a fair number of Easter Markets that go on. A few days after Easter, I went to work and found out that I wasn’t needed in my first class because the students were writing a test. Since I had 90 minutes to kill, I headed back to Alexanderplatz (two stops away) and got to look around the Easter Market since it was still going on for a few more days. There were rows of different shops selling candy, cheese, bratwurst, t-shirts, jewelry, and other goodies. Based on my addiction, and the fact that I will probably not have access to any once I’m back in Canada, I bought a langos. There were quite a few beer booths and sitting areas around, but they weren’t very busy since it was still 10am on a weekday by this time.

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The most exciting parts of this Market (besides the langos, of course) were the merry-go-round and the goats. At least, I think they were goats…I’m not quite up to snuff on my different breeds of sheep and goats. But there were also bunnies beside the goats, so in general there were a lot of adorable critters. And the merry-go-round was a double-decker one! In the end I resisted the urge to take a ride – it costs money and I didn’t quite blend in amongst the 6-year-olds. But it was fun to look at and take pictures of!

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But enough about animals and merry-go-rounds. The last exciting thing I wanted to mention in this blog took place this past Saturday, and was the “Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften,” or in other words, long night of sciences. Berlin is known for it’s various “Long Night Of” events, and in the past Sebastien and I have been able to attend both the long night of Museums and the long night of Libraries. The concept is that people pay one fee, and are able to walk in to any number of institutions. On the long night of museums, we were able to make it to about four museums between 5pm and midnight. For the long night of sciences, various libraries and universities were open, and you could go and see experiments take place. Sebastien, being the amazing planner that he is, took the time to make sure that we could hit up a lot of different things that specifically interested us. We started off at the Humboldt University Library, where they were offering tours of the library and a look at some of the “behind-the-scenes” work of a librarian. Of course, the complicated part of this entire evening was that everything was in German; even if my conversational skills in German are now fairly good, my understanding of complex science is pretty terrible! Our first plan was to join a tour of the library, but once I realized that this was the same library I’ve visited with different grade 11 classes at work, I figured that it was unnecessary. After that, Seb and I were able to see books being digitized. We saw how a fancy scanner is used to make a copy of each page, and after that, the librarian adjusts how the pages are seen on the computer before they are made accessible online. I learned a lot of interesting things about how copyright is involved and how this process differs from things like Google books. At least I think I learned these things: Sebastien translated most of it for me once we left!

We then headed over to the Technische Universität to catch a few lectures and experiments. We started out with a lecture on the idea of life on other planets, and this was followed by a lecture on satellites. After this, we went to see various experiments – two of which involved wind and the idea of wind resistance affecting the speed of vehicles. There was one huge hurricane machine, in which wind is simulated at different speeds. A few people got to go inside it individually, and the challenge was to see how long they could hold on to a few boxes as the wind speed increased. This was a lot of fun, especially since I could enjoy the visual experiment and didn’t have to try and understand the German. I also ran into someone that plays in my orchestra there – it’s not very often I see people that I haven’t met through Sebastien! Another experiment we got to see involved a plane turbine. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on, but Sebastien explained it to me after we left. The experiment itself involved the energy it takes to give a plane speed. So we went into one room wearing headphones and eye protection, and watched a controlled stream of fire. When certain factors in the machine were changed, the sound of the fire got insanely loud as the pressure changed, and I was holding my headphones even closer to my ears in an attempt to drown it out.

At about 11pm, we went to watch a science competition in the lecture hall – different scientists explained their experiments to the group, and at the end we voted for the best one. The guy that won gave quite a good presentation – he was on a team trying to build a robot that could function on Mars, and he made his presentation engaging and funny.

To end off the evening, we headed to the Technische Universität Library for some dancing. You couldn’t hear a sound as you walked up to the library, because everyone on the dance floor was wearing headphones! It was quite the cool concept – there were three DJs, and each person could choose which DJ to listen to at any given time. When you looked around while not wearing headphones, it looked like everyone was dancing without music. But once you put on the headphones, you could join in the party – even if you were off the beat from the person next to you because you were listening to a different station. Who said libraries were just for nerds?

On Sunday, I went to a vegan restaurant for one of the tastiest brunches I’ve ever had, and on Tuesday I am headed to a blind restaurant with a group of my friends. We’ll be eating in complete darkness! It’s been a lot of fun exploring events that Berlin has to offer. I am down to my last three weeks of work in Berlin, and am determined to enjoy every moment before heading home for the summer.

I hope that you have enjoyed this latest blog post. Have a terrific week!

Auf wiedersehen!

-Robyn

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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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