(W)rapping up

I have to say, I absolutely love my coworkers at the Gesamtschule. I now have a sort of “Ode to Ginger” to remember forever, as they wrote and performed a song for me as a good-bye present at the last teachers’ conference of the semester. I’ll post the lyrics eventually as they’re really quite clever, but I’m in Madrid now with limited time to write — lots of things to do and see!

I’ve had a hard time processing the whole end of the Fulbright “experience”, simply because of how fast the end came. It helped that I took the time to write a brief speech in German which I presented to my coworkers as a heartfelt thank-you for their support. Last August I was definitely dreading being placed in such a small town, but I’m absolutely happy with the way things turned out. I’m so thankful for the cooperative and passionate teachers I’ve been able to learn from and work with, and for the lively, passionate, intelligent students I grew close to throughout the year.

Side note: I feel obligated to mention that my 9th grade students asked me to choreograph a hip hop routine for their graduation ceremony performance, which I somehow whipped up in an hour in the staff room. They were tough to teach, but I ended up getting them to look passably “gangsta” (well, as thug as 15-year-old Germans from a small country town can look, having been taught by a ballroom dancer from the suburbs) and had them rapping to The Black Eyed Peas’ “Time of Your Life – Dirty Bit” in front of their parents. It was a success.

The odd thing was that, aside from a day of doldrums when I finally realized all of the great stuff about to come to an end, I wasn’t sad at all during the whole process of saying good-bye to everyone. I’ll admit, I shed a few tears when I bid adieu to Elke, the effervescent bundle of energy who is our choir director, but for the most part I have it in my head that I’ll see all of the important people again soon…whether it’s during the summer in Frankfurt or after being in Asia for a bit. Honestly, it was the happiest round of good-byes I’ve ever experienced – I’m optimistic about keeping in contact with the fantastic connections I’ve made here.

I feel peculiar writing this post because I’m already sitting on the balcony of my CouchSurfing host’s apartment in Madrid. I barely had time to tie up loose ends in Gießen before I was boarding a cramped RyanAir flight to meet up with Michael, a close friend from my time at UW-Madison.  Life rolls on…

To wrap everything up — probably too quickly to do the program justice — I guess that more than anything, the experience as a Fulbright  ETA has allowed me to grow as a traveler and (as completely corny and cliché as it sounds) as a global citizen. Yes, I learned the useful lesson that I don’t want to be a teacher…at least not full time, nor with pubescent children…but the simple ability to sustain a life where I took so much time for myself and did whatever I wanted, when I wanted to…how many people ever get that chance!? Truly, in every sense, I’m so grateful for each experience of these last ten months.

Ahora, on to the proxima aventura!

Wanted: Eurojob for schlagfertige Dame

Thought of the day: it’s an oddly refreshing feeling when the contents of your life fit into a three-piece luggage set.

Only three days of Fulbright ETA work left, most of which will be spent celebrating the end of the school year. If there’s one thing to learn about Germans it’s that they (like my fellow Badgers) have a strict “work hard/play really, really hard” mentality. Once tasks are checked off the to-do list, it’s time to party!

After Kyra, Rick and I held a good-bye party this past Saturday I was left feeling a little peculiar as I’m the one “staying behind”. Having to repeat the fact that no, I’m not flying back to the states just yet, and yes, I do want to live in Europe for at least another year (or two…or three) made me start honing my plans for the next few months. Here’s the run-down of my itinerary as I have it planned so far:

June 19-July 8: trip through Spain and some of western France. Tentative destinations: Madrid, Sevilla, Algeciras, Gibraltar, Tangier, Granada, Valencia, Barcelona, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Bordeaux, La Rochelle.

July 8-August 30: au pair work in Frankfurt

August 30-October 28: trip to Indochina, i.e. Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam (and Malaysia as well, theoretically).

October 29-? Mystery.

During the summer I’ll have time to find a job that ideally will start in November of this year. I can easily see myself working as a representative for an international company in ______ (insert any large European city in English/German/French-speaking Europe).

Achtung, Achtung. Here comes the part where I ask for your help…

My experience includes public relations, communications, sales, language education, event planning, travel writing, translation and more — I’m now looking for anything that will keep me working in direct contact with people and not sitting mindlessly at a computer for 40 hours a week. Ah yes, and voilà,

my CV/resumé in both English and Deutsch.

If you or someone you know has a job/internship/project/idea that you know I could rock the socks off of, please leave a comment or send me an email (kern.ginger[at]gmail.com).

With that, I’ll just leave you with a substantial “thank you in advance!” and a note that the next blog post will probably be one of those sappy, all-good-things-come-to-an-end sob fests. You have been warned…

Hippie learning

There is one fifth-grader, Rebecca, who takes private English lessons from me after school. She’s a sweet, friendly 11-year-old whose classroom strengths never lay in the realm of English. We’ve been working together on a weekly basis since November, and with the change of weather recently, were able to finally have a lesson outside.

Textbook learning is something to be given credit, but when Rebecca and I abandoned her English book and explored nature on the school grounds it was shocking how much faster she learned both vocabulary and grammatical concepts (present progressive was the new thing of the day, i.e. The bug is crawling on your arm). Her sentence construction has never been consistently accurate, but by the end of the hour and a half we spent chasing butterflies, blowing dandelion seeds, examining pine cones and befriending a bright red beetle that definitely liked her more than me, she was speaking almost exclusively in English.

Redefining someone’s world is a task easier said than done, but the lesson with her that day certainly accomplished more than just a few words learned and a new bit of grammar stuck in her head. It proved that regardless of grades on an exam, she could express herself without rules and conjugation tables to guide her and ideally, set the foundation for her to associate English with fun & sun!

The good kind of prison?

A few days ago I volunteered a few hours of my afternoon to teach English at the Martin-Buber-Schule in Gießen, a school for mentally disabled and/or physically handicapped children. It was organized by fellow CSer Philipp’s mom, a teacher at the school, and turned out to be one worth remembering. The two hours I spent with these eight 17-year-olds were heartwarming and above all, fun!

For all of them, it was their very first English lesson (ever!), so we learned the basics: hello, good-bye, my name is _____, I come from _____, thank you, and the numbers 1-10. Two of them were especially excited to show that they could already count to ten, despite never having learned it in school, and one particularly vocal boy happily sang choruses of “What’s my name?” by Rihanna. Ah, American pop culture, your power frightens and pleases me simultaneously…

After the lesson, a few of the kids volunteered to lead me on a tour of their school. One of the girls, Sarah, grabbed me by the hand and enthusiastically led me through the building that the teacher described as a “prison”; to prevent the kids from wandering off and getting disorientated, the doors — all of the doors — must be opened by key, and a metal gate surrounds the entire school and playground. The security was great, the resources available to the 140 kids were more than adequate from what I could see (there was even a relaxation room with a waterbed, disco ball, and lit tubes of colored bubbly water)!

An unexpected added bonus: I learned something too! One of the girls is Germany’s #1 speedstacker in her category (stacking cups, that is — not bad, eh?), and taught me the basic stacks. Apparently no English lesson with me is complete without some spontaneous dancing, which delighted the kids to no end when another of their teachers showed up and started twirling me around!

It was fantastic to see how motivated the majority of the students were, regardless of their handicaps. I found it difficult not to compare the abilities and personalities of my students to theirs. It’s maddening when I see the huge potential of some of my students at the Friedrich-Magnus-Gesamtschule going to waste because of pure laziness, something the students in this class at the Martin-Buber-Schule thankfully lacked. It was also wonderful to feel so appreciated, and to not feel any societal distance between me and the students, as these kids all used the informal du form of “you” with me. I had a lovely afternoon, and was happy to hear “You can come back again, you know!” from many of the kids when it was time to go. Their cheerfulness and zest for life certainly makes me want to!

Stereotypes: “the efficient German” in a nutshell

To return to the oddities and wonders of the German school system, I’ve noticed something that my Gesamtschule does (and presumably others do) quite well. In Germany, it’s typical to have an “SV-Stunde” every month or so. SV = Schülervertretung, or ‘student substitution’, an hour set aside for the students to take over and voice their opinions in an open discussion. The kids talk about everyday issues that affect their homeroom class, from interpersonal conflict to the events and activities they want to plan for their class. Then there is time for the students to voice their compliments and concerns regarding their main teacher or any of the other teachers.

What amazed me when I sat in on one of these class periods was how bluntly honest the students were without being unfairly judgmental or exaggerating their opinions. It’s especially useful when the students truly feel that the teacher has a problematic teaching style or is doing a bad job disciplining other students. Simply because open space is created, the dialogue happens peacefully. Issues are addressed upfront and varying solutions are debated and implemented.

This SV-Stunde partially explains the root of two common stereotypes of Germans: their efficiency and directness. These methods of handling situations are imprinted into their brains at a very young age. They save time and leave everyone happier in the end. The students take these skills with them into the workplace and use them unconsciously, both in private and public circles. Perhaps it gets lost in the haze of lies that is the political world, but the positive stereotypes Americans have of the German business world must mean that it’s doing some good.

The downside? Directness can be misinterpreted as rudeness. So, the next time a German girl tells you that you’re underperforming in the bedroom, don’t lose heart…she’s probably just optimistic that you can fix the problem and get on to the good stuff…

By the way, I flew a plane today. And I’m in Luxembourg. More on that in the next post!

Oh $h*%!

We know that profanity carries a certain meaning, otherwise we wouldn’t reserve it for situations when the extreme is simply bursting to be expressed with a power-packed expletive. But what do you do when a student answers a question with a thoroughly inappropriate response?

8th grade English class. Topic: “American / German festivals”
In-class assignment: make a mind-map (brainstorm ideas) of things related to any cultural festival in Germany

Result, from a 14-year-old boy:

“The Laubach Ausschussfest is where people shoot guns, drink  beer, and fuck drunken bitches”.

Reaction: raucous laughter.

I had to give him credit for being honest; the 471st time the festival will be celebrated this June will likely also include the events of the preceding 470 years, namely, men being macho with firearms, Germans doing what they do best with malt beverages, and…well…the subsequent drunken hookups. I couldn’t have asked for a truer, more concise statement. So to begin with, I treated it as the legitimate answer that it was. I even wrote “fuck drunken bitches” on the board and asked the class to help me translate the phrase into a more refined form of English. (Mind you, the 60-something-year-old teacher whose class I was leading was in a slight state of shock at this point). It was surprising how fast they shouted out answers like “have sex with!” and “sleep with!”, but when it came to finding a milder form of “bitches”, it took a few seconds before girls was decided upon as fitting. Suddenly, under his phrase stood “have sex with drunken girls” and instead of seeming funny or clever for knowing some quality English slang, he just looked like a douche.

Reaction? No more laughter.

A very short level-headed lecture followed in which I made crystal clear that that sort of language wouldn’t be tolerated in my classroom, regardless of its accuracy. It gave me a little perspective on just how much they absorb from (primarily) American media, while German MTV subtitles lack the cultural context to give the words their real meaning and weight. I let them know that despite the inappropriate usage in a classroom setting, it’s definitely extremely useful to know our wonderful variety of four-letter words…provided they know the actual meaning behind what they’re saying.

Privately, I’m guilty of using degrading language on a fairly regular basis, so I did feel hypocritical for calling him out, but I suppose I have to pat myself on the back for going all “teacher-y” on him…not something I do often, as I much prefer being seen by them as a sort of mentor/personal development catalyst than an authority figure. ^_^