December 31st, 2013. Today is the last day of this magnificent year. I never really expected it, but I believe this year has been one of those wonderful years which I am extremely positive and at the same time, extremely … Continue reading
I have signed up for an intensive introduction to the German Language when I first arrived in Cottbus. We are now through with the second week of three weeks of training. We have daily lessons which, by the beginning of the semester will be done twice a week for an hour, more like an extensive lesson. I am enjoying the lessons, although I must admit that at a certain point of the lecture of every day, around 2 hours in the class proper, I find myself really just dumb struck with what we are talking about. I make it a point to do my assignments and improve my vocabulary on a daily basis. I am proud to say that I have ordered beers for myself and two friends , figured out how much the cashier says in the grocery, went to the museum and asked the for discounted rates for students to get a special tour package, spoke to the city hall personnel to clear my residency permit and I have also discussed with the local insurance on how I can get additional travel insurance – this has been done with more or less half German, a quarter English and a quarter of patience and guesswork.
Let me share some of the stories I have had with my basic German knowledge. My teacher asked me today what languages we speak at home and I told her in German, “Wir sprechen Englisch und Philippinisch.” explaining that we both speak the two languages at home. She was puzzled by the answer and she asked, “Is that normal?” I said the language we speak is mostly a combination but we are comfortable to speak in either Filipino or English. She found this an interesting response. Generally, Germans would prefer to speak German at home and not combine the two languages together because it will be a bit confusing. There are already some words that are similarly expressed so creating a Gerlish (my own term for German-English talk) isn’t really a fad here.
Another day, we were also asked to show the country we came from and she wittily said, “The country is far far away!” I never really saw it as that far in my mind – its only 6 hours difference as compared to the US which is 12 hour difference to Manila / Singapore but when I reflected on it, maps usually show that New Zealand is in the right most side of the map and the US is is in the left side and of course, Europe is in the middle. We are like on the right hand side of the map covered with so much water. Most people would here have not met any Filipino, even the woman in Stadtbüro (City Office) was surprised most Filipinos are Roman Catholics.
Like in Singapore, I have also encountered many questions mostly from International students, why my English is good, and they ask where I studied my bachelor’s degree. I can’t seem to find the right words for this yet and my usual response is that, “We have good education back home.” That conversation usually just ends there.
I have also been asked a couple of times by the Spanish students if I speak Spanish and I say, “I can count in Spanish. I don’t know if that’s the same thing.” I would usually throw some bente dos, bente quatro, lamesa, eskaparate, and ola in the word list and they nod affirmatively. I am still slightly part of the family.
Lastly, as part of our lessons, we were asked us to convert a German expressions to our native tongue. Here was the trick conversion that got me. “Was sind Ihr Hobbys? Ich sammle Briefmarken” (What are your Hobbies? I collect stamps.) I actually had a hard time translating hobbies and stamps to Filipino. Finally I got it. “Ano po ang iyong kinalilibangan? Ako any mahilig mangolekta ng selyo.” After writing that, I pondered when I last used the word selyo. It was probably in primary school.
There is a German – English -Filipino conundrum in my mind. I feel that German is my first foreign language. English has been so engrained in our daily conversations as Filipinos because it has been taught in schools from kinder garten to high school so much so that I have associated it with normal conversations. We can’t escape a day not seeing an English phrase or saying something in English. I won’t dare to say it is my mother tongue because I know that I speak Filipino easily too but at some point, English has only become a tool for me to communicate. I no longer differentiate the medium of communication from my own native tongue. When I speak German, I am like a toddler, jumbling the words together to find the most appropriate way of saying things. I process the words in English, translate it to German and check if it is correct. We have never really learned or possibly created a German -Filipino educational tool, or at least none that I know of. I rely on my grasp of the English language to help me learn this foreign language.
When we heavily rely on one language to learn another, do we consider it a foreign language? Are we a bilingual nation?
It is an unfortunate thing that it is only now that I had the opportunity to write about my experience here in Cottbus. I have spent two weeks here and I believe that I have adjusted quite well in the new environment.
Allow me to give you some impressions about Cottbus. Although the city is one of the biggest cities in the state of Brandenburg, the city has a quiet university town feel to it, probably similar to my sister’s university in Los Banos, Laguna (Philippines). It is an hour and twenty minutes from Berlin and the city has its medieval past as well as its more modern architecture, mostly in my university (BTU). There is a large percentage of international students here, roughly 15% of the student population, Some of them I have already met in my classes with for the basic German language. The international students come from diverse countries in Europe, Asia and Africa and I think there is a really big group of Spanish bachelors degree takers for this year.
The university is a modern campus where the IKMZ is the star architectural symbol of the campus. It was designed by Herzog and de Meuron – they were the designers of the Bird Cage for the Beijing Olympics and the Prada shop in Tokyo, both of which are amazingly designed structures. Many of the other buildings are a combination of modern glass and steel structures mixed with older buildings. It has a very pleasant pedestrian avenue that connects many of the buildings in the university.
The old city is not far from campus. It is probably a 10-minute walk to go there by foot. I hope in the future, I get to know more about the city’s personal history from medieval times, to the industrial age, the former DDR and its more modern usage now. I have yet to be acquainted with the local community, somewhat of a difficult task primarily because of the language barrier and secondly, I have only met the international students as of now because of our common language classes. There is a tandem program for learning the language that the university has set up wherein interested individuals can practice their language and learn a new one. For my case, I am thinking of participating to improve my German and explain more about English, and if there are takers, I can also share my native tongue.
Before I met my classmates, I remember having a discussion a few days ago with a friend who is also taking her graduate studies somewhere in Germany.
She asked me, “What do you want to project when you meet your new classmates?”
I asked in a startled voice, “Does that matter?”
She said to me, “I see it as a new experience where in I can reinvent myself in anyway possible, highlight the good things about myself and not discuss things that are not important to me. You can portray yourself as an athlete or an artist if you want to. You can change your name and experiment. The good thing is that you don’t have the baggage of your old self.”
With her words it made me think – who am I and what do I want to project? To be honest, after two weeks, I still do not know. The idea that I am changing my image to create a slightly different persona is strange to me for I only can be comfortable in my own perception of reality. A long time ago, I may have had preconceived notions of who I was, what I can become and what I should be but now that I really thought about it, that really wasn’t important.
Being a student, I feel like I am everyone else. There are those students who likes to party all the time, there are those who like to go to the library often and there are those who like to keep to themselves. I am all of that and none of that. I am equal to other students, the only difference that we have so far is our choice of courses. I am here without pretenses about myself and my capabilities because I am here to learn and understand new ideas. I am no longer in the stage in my life where I want to prove something to other people, that I am cool or popular, athletic or charming. I am just me, whoever that person is inside me. I have my beliefs, my experiences, my dreams but no more pretensions, no more illusions.
I am here because I want to be here. I am here because there is this burning desire to experience something new, something that will enrich my life and hopefully the life of others. I want to discover new knowledge, new people who will open up my ideas of the world and the different cultures we live in. I want to see design not just as a product of our minds but a product of our culture and beliefs. I want to see how places are engrained in memory. All other personal issues and baggage isn’t really that important.
I can’t wait for the lectures to start and I hope my German improves. Learning something new and learning a new language is a must!
P.S. A few days after this post, I came across one of those beautiful words movies sometimes throws out. This one may be most appropriate for this post:
“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case too early – to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit; stop whenever you want. You can change, or stay the same – there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again. – Benjamin Button”
I’ve never lived in a dorm before so the experience of trying my luck to get one while I am still in Singapore is a challenge. ItLast week, I got a letter from the Studentenwerk Frankfurt/Oder that there are no more rooms available for me in the 5 dormitories that they own near campus. This email meant that I will have to find a place on my own via the internet and try my luck securing a place of abode before I get to Germany. As written in the university’s guide for international students, one needs an address in Germany to go through the necessary steps of registration to the university. I mean logically I understand that this ruling ensures that students don’t just register in the university without finding a place to stay but practically, come on, that is almost impossible to do when you are still elsewhere in the other part of the world. How can one get a good deal before arriving in the city? That is probably the point of the ruling, now that I think about it, but of course, I can’t help but get frustrated with the whole thing.
Many of the offers for flat sharing found in the internet doesn’t have any photos and clear descriptions and to make matters more difficult, google maps street view isn’t available yet in Cottbus. As Singaporeans would put it, “So how?” Here I am, in a sort of conundrum that is typical thought with any international student. Where will I stay????
POST BLOG THOUGHT: The paragraph seems so whiny and strange, 15 years ago if I were an international student, I would have probably no issues with this as the internet was not really an option to get these information.
I got a response from Gästehaus an der UNI-service GmbH but the place is a bit pricy as compared to other places but well, maybe its better than nothing. Since it is a private dormitory, I hope that the place will not be too bad and that it will a decent home away from home.
For more information on finding accommodation in Deutschland, here is a link that I found in the DAAD website.
With my visa requirements more settled and ready for submission next week, I am now getting a bit more comfortable with the idea – I am going to Germany. I just haven’t booked my ticket yet and my visa will hopefully be approved before the end of August. Keep calm and carry on.
Here is my facebook shout-out a couple of minutes ago:
“I have been told by Jose that I should do a proper shout out for this so here it goes: After five years, I am having a break from Singapore life to go to Germany for my masters degree.
A new chapter opens with much hope and excitement but also with a bit of nervousness. A lot of German lessons required for the next few months. Ich spreche kein Deutsch!”
This is a moment to celebrate. I’ll worry about the other details later.
Time: One and a half months before my trip home, 2 months before flying to Germany.