Study Abroad: Postcard from Germany

Katie Goll (left) and Rachel Story meet up on their adventures. Here they are in Gibraltar, England and the African coast can be seen in the background.

Katie Goll is a double major in management and German. For the last year Katie took classes and explored Germany. Below, she shares with us a number of her journal entries portraying her thoughts throughout the experience.

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Wow. Germany.  It’s my second entry on the second day.  It turns out I was so jet lagged the first day that I couldn’t even read my own journal entry for the first day here.  Now that I’ve slept I think there’s a chance of coherence. 🙂

I’m so excited to be here.  I love adventure and newness and I have it here at my fingertips.  A new language, a new culture, a new people, a new country, a new continent!  A new adventure!!!  We start classes in three days and I can’t wait.  I need to brush up on my German because I got here and found out I knew a whole lot less German than I thought I did.  I was well prepared with everything the guidebook and German class taught me, but no one taught me the little stuff!

I was trying to order an ice cream cone and as I was standing in line I realized that I didn’t know how to say “scoop”!  I finally got up the courage to ask the women in front of me “what is the ball made of ice cream?”  She must have thought I was insane but finally gave me the word- Kugel.   I was so proud when I ordered my ice cream Kugel. Only ¾ of the German dictionary to learn before I’m fluent. 🙂

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So I’m volunteering in this first and second grade mixed class.  It is official.  Kids of all nations are adorable, but past that it was fascinating to see how the pillars of a society are formed in the young.

In the American classrooms I’ve volunteered in the children are encouraged to be creative and there is lots of group work.  In contrast the German students I worked with were held to strict rules and worked almost entirely alone.

I knew that Germans like their rules and regulations but I had no idea how firmly the idea of following the rules is planted and at such a young age.  An example that really sums of the importance of following directions for the Germans is that the teacher told the children to color a picture of a dragon.  The teacher handed out the pictures and then told the children what colors they were allowed to use to color the dragon.  One little girl I worked with wanted to use blue for the dragon’s wings.  I, unaware of the consequences, said blue was a great color and her dragon looked great.  The little girl took the picture up to the teacher and the teacher freaked out.  She actually yelled at the little girl because blue wasn’t one of the colors she was allowed to use!  [Translation from German to English] “This dragon is NOT blue!  Do you know of a dragon with blue wings?  The only dragon we’re coloring today DOES NOT have blue wings! Do it again.”

I was astounded.  First of all that a teacher was yelling at a first grader and secondly that it mattered that much that the directions were not followed.  Talk about a cultural difference.  I knew the Germans were sticklers for rules, but I had no idea it went to this extent.

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Gelato is the real ambrosia of the Gods.  Thank goodness I walk as much as I do or they will have to roll me onto the plane.

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So after the dragon incident at the elementary school I decided to be more observant and look at how children are taught societal norms in school.  I noticed that the children were not allowed to raise their voices above “the 30 centimeter voice.”  The quietest children in the class were well rewarded and pointed out and as I noticed last time – students who followed directions were rewarded.  The children were taught to sit very still.  This is not so different from an American classroom but the feeling of order was very evident.  Everything had a place and it needed to be placed there and labeled.

I found the classroom so interesting that I started to compare what the children were learning there to German friends I hang out with.  It was so similar!  I knew that the Germans are very orderly.  In fact one of the most repeated phrase I heard from them was “alles in Ordnung” [Everything is in order].  They would use this phrase as we use “okay.”  For example:  Q: “Will you pick up milk?”  A: “Everything is in order”.  Fascinating.

When I started looking for it I saw how deeply rules permeate German society.  They have a rule and an order for almost everything- and they follow them.  An example is crossing the street.  There are signs everywhere “Nur bei Grün.  Den Kinder ein Vorbild” [“Cross only on green.  The children follow your example.”]  If you cross anywhere but the crosswalks you can get a hefty fine and people will actually chew you out when you get to the other side.  I understand the logic but they are so blasted serious about it!  These kinds of rules are everywhere!  How to stand in line, how to get the attention of a sales attendant, even clothing styles are all strongly ingrained social norms.

I looked online to see if I was reading too far into the differences between German and American social norms and found this article about Legos.  To paraphrase the article: When you give German children a box of Legos they dump it out.  Sort all the Legos into colors and check that all the parts are there.  Then they read the instruction manual and build exactly what the instructions tell them to.  When American children are given a box of Legos they dump it in one big heap and toss the instruction manual aside and begin to build whatever they want to.  Engineering verses creativity.  Building something well and how it’s supposed to be done verses creating something new.  That is the biggest cultural difference I’ve noticed.

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My German (and some other European friends) asked me today why I smiled so often and was almost always happy.  I said for the most part I had little to nothing to be upset about.  Then they asked me if I had anything to be happy about.  I thought it was such an odd question.  I start my day at happy so I guess it takes quite a bit to make it a bad day.  I tried to explain this – I don’t think it translated well.  Culturally or verbally.

Street Performers in Munich, Germany.

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This is ridiculous!  I’m so sick of red tape!  There has to be 100 signatures for this and 1000 okays for that and blah blah blah.  Does nobody just have a good time here?  Seriously people.  Pull it together and let me get a stinking bank account!!!!!!!!!!!

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So finals are coming up and I’ve decided taking Spanish for the first time taught in German may not have been one of my better ideas.  I’m pretty good with the German but having to translate between three languages is not so great.  I’ve been studying for four days!  I’ll pass but goodness knows I’m going to pay for it.

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Good news world!  All finals passed and all systems go!  I’m going out with Rafaela and Julian and the gang for a night of discothèques.  I can’t believe I leave so soon.  It seems like the last year has gone so quickly.  I could easily live here another few years.  Maybe I’ll look into working for a German company or better yet, an American company with a German office.   I will miss it all so much but I’ll be back sometime and I’m so blessed to have so much waiting for me when I get back.   Thanks God for a great year and what will be a great future.

Cologne, Germany – Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral). L to R: Left to Right: Marie, Katie Goll, Maria, Valentina, Alicia

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Interested in this program? Here’s more from Katie about how you can tailor the experience to make it even more of an adventure:

My study abroad program offered various semester-long volunteer and internship opportunities.  I chose to work with an elementary classroom (a combined 1st and 2nd grade classroom) every Thursday morning.  I enjoy volunteering and planned to do it as a supplement to my abroad experience but it became one of the best learning and enjoyable experiences I had in Germany. I was supposed to help the German school children with reading, math and spelling but I think they ended up teaching me more than I could teach them! We would read books together and they would look up words they didn’t know or ask me, and when I found a word I didn’t know I would ask them.  Those kids were some of the hardest people to say goodbye to when I left Germany.  As I walked out the door for the last time one of them asked with big, hopeful eyes “Frau Katie!  Kommen Sie nexte Woche zurück?” Translation [Miss Katie! Are you coming back next week?]  My heart just broke.

The study abroad program itself was a semester or yearlong program in Bonn, Germany.  I was one of five or six Americans who decided to stay all year and I’m so glad I did.  I had a lot of reservations about staying for an entire year but I never could have absorbed the culture to the extent that I did if I had only stayed a semester.  There is an optional one-month orientation that I STRONGLY recommend.  It is the perfect opportunity to mingle with the ERASMUS students and get to know your new home with people in the same situation as you.  The orientation and programs offered throughout the year were well set up and diversified.  The Bonn International Office worked to mix Germans, ERASMUS, American, Asian, and other exchange students.

Wicklow, Ireland

This entry was posted in German, Germany, Honors College Study Abroad Grant, J.William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, Management, Sam M. Walton College of Business, Study Abroad. Bookmark the permalink.

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