Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Life, it seems, is poetic. In tribute this will be a short post. Feeling very much like the subject of a year long poem, I find myself, on my very last night in Germany, feeling very much the same way I felt on my very first day in Germany: tired, confused and alone. My cohort Gary has driven already to Amsterdam, but I stayed behind to pack and say goodbye to one more family (who consequently are meeting me at 6:30 for a final get together). I have spent most of the day hastily packing and trying to convince myself that being lonely and sad aren’t bad things, and that they are simply a part of my experience here. I have to breath deep the air of Altes Lager one last time, and spend one final lonely night in my seemingly large apartment before I can fully say goodbye to my one year home. My thoughts rage from the children I taught and the teachers I worked with and, like waves, crush any stray happy thoughts, drowning out the sliver lining until I can fully appreciate it. It all reminds me of a life lesson I have picked up this year, sometimes people hold things back from us, not because they don’t wish to help us, but rather because they sense, somehow, that we are unready to truly enjoy that which they are holding back. Will I ever learn German? Perhaps not according to some standards, but for most of you, I already know German, 500 times better than you at the very least. That’s all I got. Tune in next adventure. Oh, and dear reader: Auf Wiedersehen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mein Letzter Schultag

Today, was the worst day of my life in Germany. I’m not trying to be all dramatic and weird, but at the same time, I AM trying to be dramatic and weird. Now, just so you know, I have had many bad days, many days here that weren’t up to par, where I felt stupid and out of place, but today, today topped them all. It wasn’t bad because I did something embarrassing; I didn’t feel stupid or out of place, I just felt sad. Today was my last day of school; my last day of seeing any of the children I have often referred to as my kids. I’d like to iterate that this sadness was ‘the good kind of sadness,’ the kind where you enjoy something or someone so much that when you know they won’t be around, you feel sad. I never really saw the end coming, I just ignored it really, hoping time might stop. So today, the last day of school, crept up on me like a wild boar. I spent the day with the 5th class, because I had no lessons, the sixth class wasn’t around, and the 5th class are some of my best friends in Germany. In the third period they did Zeugnis hand outs. A Zeugnis is a report card. Then, at the end, they called me to the front of the class and the kids gave me cards they had made me, and of course shook my hands. I will disclaim this next part with the fact that I often guard my emotions and don’t cry often, but for whatever reason the official goodbye to these kids brought tears to my eyes. Okay, so that was a bit embarrassing because all the parents were there, but maybe they thought it was sweet that I cared. I think a lot of it was that I have spent the year telling myself that I am not much to these kids, something interesting ‘oh look, another American come to teach us English.’ I always kept the fear that I meant nothing to these kids, that I was just a temporary thing. For whatever reason, the cards made me think otherwise. As for the crying, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I cannot express how much the class meant to me in words. In German I tend to shy away from saying things that express affection, because I worry that if it is taken the wrong way I won’t be able to defend myself, or mostly I just worry that in German culture you just don’t say those things. Plus you can’t really tell 5th graders anything that serious. And by you there I mean me, because I tend to joke with the children more than anything else. Whatever the reason, I don’t regret doing it, so don’t even think about leaving ‘cry baby’ comments, because they won’t hurt my feelings at all. To quote a recent book I read: ‘You’re not really a man until you have truly loved a child, and you’re not a good man until that child loves you.’
Anyway, after my cry baby fest we went outside to the official school closing ceremony. There I felt like a star because as I was called to the front, all the kids stretched out their hands for a high five like I had just hit a homerun at the end of the World Series. It was a great feeling, but also sad as some of the kids realized I was leaving. One particular girl asked me to give her five about a million times, after each one looking sad and saying ‘noch mal.’ The teachers gave me a nice picture map book of Germany, and a Jüterbog DVD. It was very nice. After that it was a mass of goodbyes, and sad faces. I stayed positive; playing with the kids like it was just another day, until the buses came. I waved one final time and then went into the teacher’s lounge one last time. Finally I took a final whiff of good old Blönsdorf air and started saying goodbye to the teachers. It was also very sad to do. Like I said, today was my worst day ever in Germany, the day I realized I have to leave all the things that took so long to get used to.

6th Class Graduation

Tonight was the 6th class graduation. Now for those of you who know nothing about German schools, you might be thinking something like ‘Oh man, another one of those,’ or ‘Honestly, who needs a graduation from 6th grade.’ Well let me lay something down for you. In Germany the 6th class graduation is important because, unlike in America, after the 6th class, the students choose their own paths, some go to Gymnasium, which is a pre University course, some choose Fachschule, which leads to some kind of vocational job, and others go to school in another city. Some of the kids, who grew up together, may never see each other again (okay that is a bit heavy on the drama, but I wasn’t sure how else to explain it really). The point is, it was a big deal, and pretty fun. The 5th class is responsible for a majority of it, and I helped them a little with some of the songs they chose to sing. At one point the sixth class kids started giving roses to the teachers. Being just a temporary teacher I expected to be left out of this ceremony. So, it was surprising when two of the sixth graders snuck up behind me to hand me a rose with a note on it. The note said: ‘Sometimes, I think about what you might say in my situation, with your dry humour, and I can’t help but smile and send you a winking mental greeting. I wonder if you got it?’ At first I considered that maybe it was a mistake and the flower was meant for another teacher, but the note seemed quite personal, and pretty fitting for me, as people have often commented that I have a dry sense of humour. It made me feel good because it was an example of the impact I had on these kids without realizing it, and it felt really good to know that people that I have grown to care about a lot also grew to care about me.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I'll make a teacher of you yet, Finnagan!

Today I felt like a real teacher. Perhaps it is weird that it has taken pretty much an entire school year to feel that way, and though I would like to blame (I originally wrote it blaim, but I blame German spelling) my language comprehension skills, I think I should really just chalk it up to training. I was kind of thrown into this whole teaching gig after a lifetime of promising myself I would never be a teacher. My parents are both teachers, so as a child I spent a brief amount of time thinking teaching was the only real profession on the planet. I think it is easy enough to do that, especially as a child seeing as the most real things to you (or at least to me back then) are your parents, siblings, classmates and teacher. The point is when it got time to be rebellious, the first thing I thought to do was rebel against the teaching profession. It is a rebellion I have held on to, to this day, mostly because signs keep pointing me in that direction. I know, I should think of teaching as a noble profession, being one of the only jobs that involve dealing with homework again (not having homework is probably the greatest thing about being out of school), and one chooses to deal with this homework in order to stand in front of a group of children most of whom don’t really want to learn. It’s a bit of a harsh judgement on school children, but I am allowed to say it because I’m a teacher and I work with those school children (plus I know school is boring...), and we’re always harder on our jobs than our normal lives.
Anyways, back to the point. I felt like a real teacher because I was called into a conference with the principal. Being a seasoned professional student, I have a natural resistance to meetings, especially when they involve a principal. My first thought is always: okay, what have I done to deserve this, and how can I sneak out of it? Now being a teacher, of course, the meeting was about students, specifically an event that happened yesterday on the bus. Unfortunately, the students involved were among my biggest fans, children that normally defend my honour should any of the other children attempt to mock me in earnest. Ordinarily they give me a hard time, but that is the way friendship generally works. Somehow it got around that these kids make fun of me a lot, though conveniently left out was the fact that they were just messing around. The meeting was intended to clarify this, though it was mixed up because there were also other things involved. Plus I won’t pretend my German is perfect. Anyway, I tried to give the facts, letting go of friendship alliances I would hold if I were a student and not a teacher. The kids weren’t bothering me, but did give considerable grief to two other adults. I spent the rest of the day waiting for the hammer to fall, for the kids involved to be mad at me or no longer be my friends. Instead, a strange thing happened. I met with a teacher and one of the kids involved and though the child was upset, it was more sadness. As he explained what he was in trouble for, he fought back tears, but I began to realize that there was an error. Tomorrow I will have to attempt to get the problem corrected, probably setting back the teachers opinion of my German comprehension to caveman level, but I suppose that’s what a real friend would do in this situation.
In other news, my spider bite has worked itself out, as most things tend to do, so I will not be visiting the doctor quite yet. My fellow Altes Lager trainee, Gary, on the other hand will be going tommorow on my orders (is it just me or does tomorrow just seem wrong?). He came down with a sudden sore throat and fever. After discussing his symptoms on the way to the drug store, and a bit of thought I decided it was Strep. throat. (Last year I believe I correctly diagnosed this in Maria). A quick check of the internet confirmed my suspicions, so I suggested he visit the doctor, which I believe he will do tomorrow. (Still seems wrong, tomorrow I mean.) Going through that reminded me of my love of diagnosing people, and taking care of sick people, but I don’t think I have it in me to go through medical school.

Disclaimer: I have no idea who Finnagan is or why I must write Finnagan in italics, but it sounded very SNL Sean Connery on Jeopardy.

Do Radioactive Spiders Live in Deutschland?

I have a spider bite. Coincidentally, it is in the same place as Peter Parker/Spiderman’s magical, radioactive spider bite. If you are one of those people who think only dorks or dweebs read comic books, then you are wrong. Nerds read them too. I would try to evade this moniker, though it is really pointless to do so. Too many things weigh in against me: When writing I often think about grammar rules, I majored in Biology, I applied to medical school, I work in an elementary school where I can daily live out my childhood dream of being popular in elementary school, my vocabulary is still quite strong despite living the past year in Germany, I think it is cool to study things and, though not technically nerdy, I have spent a year attempting to learn (really learn) a foreign language. In case you were wondering, I have never had braces or a retainer, nor do I have debilitating allergies. Okay, all that to make a small point about a spider bite. Let’s continue shall we, noch mal von Anfang?
I have a spider bite on my left hand, in the very same spot as Peter Parker/Spiderman got his legendary, radioactive spider bite. Unlike Spidey, instead of obtaining a set of new powers, all I have so far received is a hand debilitating and quite painful cramping sensation. Though this has dissipated, it was still a bit disheartening. This whole year of avoidance from a doctor’s office; through three colds and a cough almost lasted past my two week immune system challenge; only to be stopped short, at the wire, by something as ridiculous as an insect bite. I’m not living outdoors for goodness sake. If it is still swollen tomorrow I will have to cave in to the pressure.
In other news, we are officially finished with Adult English Classes, which is both a relief; the classes took a lot of difficult planning time, and sadness; those adults were our friends, dang it! (Further evidence of Nerdiness, the use of dang it as an imperative.) Some say that every ending is the prelude to a new beginning, but I guess something about the implicit obviousness of that statement unsettles me. Perhaps I am really bothered by that prospective new beginning; it is so glooming and unclear. There are many options, and despite my ‘I want to enjoy Germany while I am still here’ attitude, I am still troubled by what to do next year. I think the thoughts wander to consciousness to block out the thoughts of leaving soon. I have become attached to my small village in Germany, I have grown to enjoy the people here, and despite it being sometimes repressively boring, I enjoy the kids I work with enough to want to stay. Maybe it is just a sign that I am a good person, but it doesn’t make it easier to deal with.
On a less downward spiralling note, I have my final English lesson all planned out. Just with the thought of it, a literal wave of peace rolled through the depths of my character. Planning English lessons this year has been a thorn in my paw. I was constantly in between being too cautious and moving too quickly. I started off with high standards, only wishing to change topics once the kids had mastered the words. I learned quickly that kids get bored easily, especially with the same 8 words over and over. I tried to make things fun and cool to learn, but often found my new ideas devoured by my limited German skills. Even my efforts to break the children into groups in creative ways only led to the children staring at me as if I were one of the creators of the Tower of Babel. No, it feels good to have my last lesson planned out; easy on the English, heavy on the culture. I’m not wimping out, I’m supposed to teach culture too. Besides it is a lot harder to talk about my life in German than to introduce new words in English. Also it is the last full week of school, and what kid is really going to want to learn something during that week? Despite its connection with being one step closer to saying goodbye for good to my childrens, I am still glad to be free of the monster that is planning.
I am also looking forward to my coming vacation to East Europe. Though I mourn the loss of visiting Switzerland, as far as vacations go, I have done pretty well. (Pretentiousness alert) I’ve made it to Germany, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Scotland and soon to add: Poland, Slovakia, The Czech, and Hungary. All in a years work I suppose. For those of you that know me, you’ll know that I hardly ever take vacations. Well I guess I’ve never really had the kind of job that allowed a vacation, but now that I have been given the wander lust I will probably travel more often. The unfortunate side of this last vacation is its substantial drain on funds. I may very well return to the states an almost penniless man. Though, when I think about it, it isn’t such a bad thing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Today, dear readers, is a cause for celebration. The celebration should involve a dance, but not yet, for now simply read the instructions: First, hold your index fingers high, then stand up, put on some music (I suggest something from Jay-Z’s newest album) and get into the beat. Now pump your fists up and down while turning in a full circle (still keeping with the beat). After a complete 360, kick each foot up to the knee of the opposite leg (one at a time of course) and slap it with your palm before taking it to the floor again. Feel free to improvise ‘whoots’ and the like. Genießen, repeat. (Genießen = enjoy).

Now that you know how to properly celebrate, I will tell you what it is you are celebrating (though if you have any knowledge of German, you might have already guessed). You’re celebrating Mullettottag, and though I doubt they’ll give you the day off for it (feel free to attempt it), it is at least a good excuse for a party. Mullettottag is the celebration of the death of my Euromullet, which I have been sporting since about October, 2006. I may have killed my chances of being in a German hard rock band, but at least none of you will have to lie if I ask how my hair looks.

In other news, I am currently in countdown mode. I have planned my final vacation, finished quite a few of the multiple tasks my job has provided me, and have a final work day to work towards. Yes, in three short weeks I will be totally finished with my job. Part of me gets really sad to think about it. Every day that I have fun at school, which is most days, I think about how soon I will step out of it’s halls for good. Today I had a conversation with some of the 5th grade guys about this. They were talking about how no new trainees would be coming, so I asked them if they were glad I was leaving. Their faces turned suddenly a little sadder as they said no. Perhaps to make them feel better I promised I would come back, which I do plan on doing, Altes Lager is a special place for me. I spent the whole day with the fifth class today helping with a project they were doing. It was fun, though a little frustrating because the kids really took no initiative whatsoever. It was still nice to spend time with them, of all the classes, the 5th class I am the closest to.

During the day, the question of: ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ came up once again. I was feeling particularly sarcastic today, and, as I have answered this question about 50 times, I said that I had four. Technically, due to the way German works I could have meant it that I had 4 friends that were girls, so I wasn’t really lying. The kids didn’t buy it, and reacted a bit too seriously to it (though German children understand sarcasm better that most of the adults I’ve met, they still have a tough time dealing with it.). Anyway, I finally gave them a straight answer, which is that I don’t have a girlfriend. This led to a small conversation after my bus ride home. During the way, two girls got on the bus (they were about 15 or 16 years old). When I got off the bus, one of the guys from the 5th class expressed his disappointment. ‘Two girls, that would have been perfect for you were on the bus and you didn’t even talk to them!’ He said. I said, ‘They were only 16, man.’ He didn’t really get it, but luckily one of the 5th grade girls was on my side. ’16 is too young for him,’ she told the boy. Somehow, I still think I will hear something about it tommorow.

Anyway, that is about all for now. Commence Celebration.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I'm...in love?
I like to think they said it because they want me to stay, because they are going to miss me, but are too young to put those feelings into meaningful words, made harder still by the fact that anything too meaningful in German and you run the risk that I won’t truly appreciate it, at least not for all it is worth. I like to think that, but I suppose I am also feeling a bit sentimental. Not sentimental enough, however, to be enjoying this ‘nasty heat’ as the weather has been described recently, without any air-conditioning. Anyway, I suppose I should take a few steps back into the ‘Vergangenheit’ (that is the past, and it is a fancy word that I don’t get to use all that often) and tell you what they said, and who these ‘they’ people are in the first place.
First off, I don’t mean ‘they’ in the general usual sense, as in ‘they told me to do it,’ or ‘that’s what they say.’ I am referring to a few of my students, 1st graders in fact, who I was talking to this afternoon whilst waiting for the bus home. The conversation began with a very strange question, though one that is, for whatever reason, quite popular for children to ask. ‘Are you in love?’ they asked me, it was a small group of two of three of them. In all honesty, the first thing I was wondering about was which one of the many rumours about my elementary school love life they were inquiring about. Explanatorywise, this year I have been presumed to be in love with: either of the English teachers, a few second grade girls, any female friend I’ve mentioned, a fictitious German girl who ‘lives in the area’, and a teenager who goes to our church (though only twice a year). The last one was the weirdest, as I happened to sit next to this girl on one of the Sundays that she came, then one of the old ladies asked me if she was my fiancé. First of all, I don’t have a fiancé, and second of all, the girl was 15, only spoke German, and grew up in the area. ‘Are you in love?’ the children asked again. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked, still not sure what they were implying. ‘Uh! He doesn’t understand,’ they said. ‘I am not in love,’ I assured them. They weren’t buying it, ‘You are too in love, and you’re going to stay here because you never want to leave.’ At this point I realised they were not referring to any of the previous rumours. Though there was still at least half a mystery in their comments. ‘Would you mind telling me with whom I am in love?’ (I interject to say that I doubt my German was quite so impressive, with German using proper grammar is simply normal). Their answer was pretty simple: ‘Someone.’ It was then that I noticed they weren’t making fun of me. As the bus pulled up I started to wonder if what they were really saying was ‘You should stay here, and never go home.’ I wondered if it meant that they would miss me and that they would enjoy my presence in this place a bit longer. Luckily I was saved from all these cheesy thoughts by one of the sixth graders, who decided to take this time to ask me (in English) ‘Hey Keith, are you silly?’ Without taking into account how sixth graders think, I answered ‘No,’ which was immediately followed by ‘Doch,’ which is German for ‘Are too!’ only a little more all purpose, because sixth graders never actually ask questions, they just wait to tell you the right answers. I was then informed that silly meant ‘Dum’ in German, which is the word for ‘Dumb’ or ‘Stupid.’ Nothing snaps you back to reality faster than being made fun of by a sixth grader. Even if it is in jest.