Thursday, 24 October 2013

Am I in Australia?

Well, everything I thought I ever knew has been turned on its head. Having always been under the impression that in this half of the world the weather actually turns colder as we head towards December, can you imagine my surprise when day by day I am actually taking OFF layers instead of adding to them?! When I arrived four weeks ago I was greeted with cold, frosty mornings, lashings of rain, and a dollop of wind in my face to boot. I was braving the outside world with armour consisting of a cosy scarf, a jacket, and some lovely warm Handschuhe (hand shoes - I 'll leave you to work out what they might be). The days were grey, my radiators were on, and I constantly had my umbrella up. Looking out the window (wide open, no less) now on this lovely Thursday afternoon, I would be forgiven for thinking I was in the South of France in the middle of August (ok, so it's not that warm , but not far off!). Well at least its nice enough that I can can do lots of activities, and doing lots of activities I have been...

On Saturday night I was invited out by one of my housemates to join her and her friends. Having previously experienced the classic 'step-from-one-foot-to-the-other-like-an-awkward-dad-at-a-wedding' style of dancing that all clubbing Germans seem to adopt, I was not anticipating to become particularly warm. So, adorned in jeans, Ugg boots, and a polo-necked long-sleeved top, I set off with the others in the car to a pub in one of the nearby villages. Well, little did I know that it was a Sorbian folk night, and when the Sorbians say dance, they mean it with a capital D. Before long, with Vodka and Coke coursing through my veins (I still can't bring myself to drink beer, even if I am in Germany) I was merrily jumping up and down, spinning, and jigging like an Irish Leprechaun with the others. And what a Sweaty Betty I was. Nevertheless, it was a great night and I did have fun- I do like to dance.

The days afterwards have been a little more restrained and, I like to think, a bit more cultured. I've been throwing myself into being a proper tourist; I went on a guided tour of Bautzen, climbed the Reichenturm, a 56m high medieval tower that has tilted 1.4m from the centre, (highly recommended - there are a lot of steps to conquer, but the view from the top is worth the pain and anguish!), and went to an exhibition at the Rathaus (town hall) about Germans who fought against Fascism during Hitler's rule. The exhibition was interesting, but I must admit I was expecting a little more than an empty room containing nothing but informational display stands, which can look a bit daunting when you see how much there is  to read without it being broken up by anything else. However, it did make me feel humble, and very very lucky.

At some point I am definitely going to go to a puppet show at the Bautzen Puppentheater (Puppet Theatre), but tomorrow's outing: The Bautzen Museum.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Water Boilers and Lazy Animals

Today is the first day of my half term. Two weeks off school, and with everyone in my Studentenwohnheim scurrying off home for the holidays I face the question - how to fill my two weeks living alone and without spending money. Well I suppose I could watch lots of German telly, rent some German films from the library, take strolls around town, and get through the pile of books I brought with me. All of this I intend to do, although I do know that I should be using this time to travel the country and visit people, go to Prague, and do all sorts of exciting things I don't have time for in my regular working week. However, all that will have to wait until next month, when I've been paid and am a little richer.

Anyway, this week I have managed to attend a German Biology lesson, a German Geography lesson about the landscapes of North and South America, and a German Maths lesson (I managed to get 3 out of 4 of the sums correct - a little embarrassing considering the pupils in the class were 12 years old, but I was nevertheless pleased to discover that I could remember at least something of my Maths lessons that finished 6 years ago). This was thanks to one of the English teachers not being able to come into school and so, as I am obliged to fill up my allotted 12 lessons a week productively, I decided that attending these lessons would be an interesting use of my time.

The rest of the time I've been learning to think on my feet and improvise. Having not been told what I've got to do before I actually get to some of my lessons, I've been given groups of kids and a topic, and been told to go and fill 45/20/15 minutes. At first it was a pretty scary experience - having to make it up as I go along, and thinking 'AAAAAH! I'VE GOT NOTHING PREPARED! WHAT DO I DO!?' but after a couple of times, it's not so bad - I suppose at least I should be grateful that I haven't had to spend every evening planning 2 or 3 full lessons like some of the other language assistants have.

Teaching your own language really does make you realise how much you actually don't know. Well obviously you know it, but you can't explain why. For example, doing some group-work with five 13-year-olds this week, and having to correct mistakes such as 'I have known him since 5 years' and 'I've been there for yesterday', the pressure was on as five beady eyes were on me looking for an explanation of when to use 'since' and 'for' correctly, and more importantly, why. So, with chalk in hand and a blackboard behind me (yes they still use blackboards and chalk in Germany) I tried to be every inch the knowledgeable and wise guide to the ins and outs of the English language they expected me to be. So, after stumbling through an explanation that even I wasn't sure was 100% correct, I wearily sat down and hoped that I'd at least been able to shed some light on this problem for them, and vowed silently that later on I would find out the answer once and for all.

It is a pretty strange experience being on the other side of a school environment. I am now a teacher/member of staff/adult in the children's eyes. They walk past me in the corridor and say "Hallo Frau Cropper" (I'm still not sure how comfortable I am being called Frau Cropper - it makes me feel a bit like an elderly spinster) and some look as though they're being led to the gallows when they come out to talk to me. On one occasion this week I got to a lesson before the teacher and as I walked into the noisy classroom, the students, who had all been chatting and laughing with eachother, promptly all went back to their seats, stopped talking, and looked at me. An awkward moment ensued, after which I panicked and assured them that they could carry on chatting until the teacher got there. 

Aside from my school pressures, I've really been appreciating the joys of the logical German language. After discovering mid-week that the kettle had started leaking and faced with the terrible prospect of maybe not being able to make tea, I realised that I did not know how to tell my Hausmeisterin (the woman who looks after the house and all the student residents) of this circumstance as I did not know the German word for 'kettle'. So, I approached a fellow housemate and asked (in German): "What is the that thing in the kitchen called that kocht (boils) Wasser (water)?". To which I received the reply: "A Wasserkocher". A 'water-boiler'? Really? Why didn't I think of that? Maybe because my language has stupid words like 'kettle' instead of just saying it how it is. I was further amused yesterday when I discovered that a sloth was called a 'Faultier' -quite literally a 'lazy animal'. 

So I continue to pursue my goal of being a German-speaker, and last night watched four 'How I Met Your Mother' episodes auf Deutsch. Although I probably got the jokes because I am a huge How I Met Your Mother geek and have seen them a hundred times before, I nevertheless allowed myself to wallow in the pride, happiness, and contentment that came from telling myself that I can now even understand humour in German.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Living Rooms and Melting Pork

Having now spent a month here in Germany, time is passing by a lot more quickly.

Friday afternoon I was a lady who lunched. And lunched in the most fantastic Sorbian restaurant. With Bautzen being a highly Sorbian area, it was only a matter of time before I visited 'Sorbisches Restaurant Wjelbik' in Kornstrasse (please, if you ever find yourself in Bautzen, do not pass this place by!), and it was possibly the nicest food I have ever had the pleasure to eat (and I have eaten a lot of nice food in my time). Part of its charm is the picturesque medieval brick walls and ceiling, and another is definitely the traditional Sorbian dress worn by the staff. Then the icing on the cake (for me) was the perfect portion sizes and melt-in-the-mouth pork covered with a delicious crispy coating. I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it.

After this I spent the weekend in Dresden (again), but this time looked around the Altstadt, the main tourist area, which is absolutely beautiful, but beware: also very expensive. I saw the very impressive Frauenkirche, which was in the middle of a gorgeous town square, and right next to the 'Fuerstenzug', the largest porcelain artwork in the world. Amidst all this sightseeing, my friend and I decided that this might be a lovely place to stop for a drink. So we sat down at a lovely-looking restaurant, but almost ran away with fright when we saw that the price of a 500ml bottle of water was 5, 30 euros (about £4.50). It was decided then and there that our thirst would be better quenched in the far more affordable Neustadt area. Here we found ourselves in the most adorable little cafe called 'Wohnzimmer', which lived up to its name as it looked, quite literally, like a living room. The cosy, homely place was decked out with mismatching sofas, armchairs, and coffee tables. And their hot chocolate was to die for!

The only downside to my trip was my bad experience with (which, up until now, I have always found a very reliable, and cheap, way of travelling around) on the way home. The site works by typing in which town you wish to travel from and to, and then a list of people making that journey in their cars is provided. Booking with one of these people means that they will take you to (insert desired town here) for a minimal fee. Everyone I have travelled with so far has been the epitome of friendliness and reliability, except the last guy I booked with. After hanging up on me on the phone twice, and then not replying to my email, he also thought it might be fun to just not turn up at the arranged place without letting me know. So, after half an hour of waiting at Neustadt train station I finally had to accept my fate and buy a train ticket, which was three times the price of what I was expecting to pay with Mitfahrgelegenheit. Ah such is life. At least I managed to get home.

My bad luck did not turn around yesterday either. Got to school and was working away in my first lesson, and got so carried away I forgot to leave when I should and go to my next one. The result was that I arrived at my second lesson as all the students were filing out of the room. Apologising to the teacher (who was thankfully very understanding and lovely about it, but I nevertheless felt terrible) then made me late to my third lesson. So all-in-all I was quite glad to get back home. Today, however, was a lot more successful, and I managed not to be an idiot. So hopefully my moment of madness will be soon forgotten by all.

On a completely different note, I watched this inspiring 11 minute speech by Tim Minchin yesterday: Enjoy :)

Friday, 11 October 2013

Living like a Victorian

So, it's been nearly two weeks since The Big Move, and a lot has happened. My new place is great except there is one problem; there is no Wi-Fi. But I wasn't too worried - they have two computers downstairs in the computer room. No problem, I thought, I'll just do my blogging/emailing/banking from there. But nothing's ever as simple as you think it's going to be is it? Turns out that the software loaded onto those computers dates back to about 1993, the Internet Explorer is so old that it no longer supports most of the sites I was trying to access (and is painfully slow), and to top it all there is (for some reason) a child block, meaning I was unable to access my blog or my bank accounts. The Stone Age machines could just about cope with Facebook and my Hotmail account, but even they had to be viewed in 'Basic Format' (which is very annoying, believe me!). It did make me realise though, how much I do rely on this modern technology. It was horrible not being able to Skype my friends and family, and banking is a slow and painful process when you can't be sitting in the comfort of your own home sorting it all out. On the bright side though, it meant that I was a lot more productive without the annoying temptation of being able to log in to Facebook at my leisure. I appreciate it is a wonderful way of staying in contact with lots of people all at once, especially at times like this when I am away, and being able to share photos so easily is fantastic. However, the inexplicable compulsion I feel to log on immediately I go online drives me crazy. Sometimes I even find myself stalking pictures of a primary school acquaintance's aunty's husband's cat (or some other such pointless activity) and then I think "JESSICA! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" and have to instantly cease such past-times. So it has been nice to avoid all that. The answer to my problems though has been to buy a dongle, so now I have a pay-as-you-go internet, meaning I am now very frugal with the time I spend online, and only use it for Skyping, blogging, and banking. It takes me back to the dear old days of dial-up.

First World problems aside however, I have been busying myself these last couple of weeks with getting acquainted with all my new housemates (who are all very nice from what I know of them so far) going to school, and visiting other Language Assistants in Goerlitz and Dresden.

School is great - I'm really enjoying being there. I've been there three weeks now and more or less know my way around. I've got used to the early starts and have been given a lot more responsibility in the classrooms than during my first week. The hardest thing has been adjusting the speed at which I speak and getting to understand the huge spectrum of ability and having to alter my behaviour and speech accordingly. If you are thinking of spending a year abroad teaching, then be prepared to have to speak very, very slowly at times. Also, you have to get used to dealing with some incredibly shy students. I have been doing a lot of one-to-one speaking practice with students outside the classroom during the last couple of weeks, and not all of them are very forthcoming with information, with some of them being unwilling to look at you and tending to answer with just yesses and nos. Of course it's very understandable for them to feel like this, but I guess I just have to keep trying to find new ways to get them to feel more comfortable and to open up. However, I am finding one-to-one a lot easier than dealing with groups; naturally with every group you have the students who don't want to stop talking, and those who will do anything to avoid starting. Encouraging the quieter ones to contribute without feeling like I am picking on them and grilling them against their will is very difficult, as is trying to get the more talkative ones to hold back a little to give the others a chance without subsequently making them feel awkward about contributing further. I'm hoping that this will be something I'll get better at with time.

Goerlitz and Dresden
Goerlitz is an interesting town right on the border of Poland. In fact, you can see Poland across the street. Whilst I was there I crossed the street and was having lunch in Poland (fortunately they were accepting Euros as I had no Zloty to offer). The town has some beautiful buildings, but it's easy to get lost if you are a newcomer. There's probably no more there than any other middling sized town, but it is very spread out and so seems like it's huge. When I compared it to Bautzen I realised how tight and compact it is compared to sprawling Goerlitz. One thing I found particularly interesting about the town is that it has not quite recovered from being in the clutches of the GDR, but is being done up slowly but surely. Walking down the street I would see one brand spanking newly done up establishment and then right next to it a derelict, disused shambles of a place that obviously hasn't been touched for a good few decades. It's an absolutely fascinating place which I would say is highly worth a visit. Bars and pubs are few and far between though, so if you want somewhere for a crazy night out this probably shouldn't be your first port of call.

Now Dresden Neustadt is more geared towards students and does offer a good night out, and the clubs stay open until very late. I have not yet had a chance to look around the more touristy Altstadt, but I am planning to go again to have a good sightseeing day out.

So for now, Tschuess, and Schoenes Wochenende.