What Actually Happens When I Try to “Study”

 

A tribute to what my mind and I are going through when I am at home, trying to get things done and study.

1. Alright, international relations theory it is today. Let’s start reading this 30 page text. (reads one paragraph)

 

2. Wait a minute…I am still supposed to download all the readings from BlackBoard before they are taken down for good. (downloads all the readings for classes, curses the German copyright system)

 

3. Okay, too much text to read. Let’s see if YouTube can explain this any better and faster. (goes on YouTube)

 

4. Finally found a well explaining video. (watches the first few seconds)

 

5. Oh, the guy tries to explain Constructivism with a Matrix reference. Have I ever seen The Matrix from start to finish? Let’s see if it is on Netflix. (pauses video, goes on Netflix)

 

6. New arrivals? Let’s have a look at that. Don’t forget to finish watching House of Cards btw. What does this say? Season 2 of Fuller House coming December 9th? YAY! Wait…what was I on here for again…? Yeah right, The Matrix. (looks up The Matrix)

 

7. Wow there’s like 3 versions of this on here. Let’s add one to the endless list of movies and shows I still want to watch and forget it even exists.

 

8. Back to YouTube…I wonder whether there is a book called International Relations for Dummies because I really need that right now. (searches for International Relations for Dummies, doesn’t find anything)

 

9. Well, I guess this summary text does it, too. (reads)

 

10. I am hungry. Time to make lunch. (eats lunch, looks at newly bought pasta maker)

 

11. Hell, I love pasta! Now, how do I best get beetroot and feta cheese stuffed into tortellini?? (starts thinking about making tortellini but goes back to studying)

 

12.  (watches another video) “A realist walks into a bar and orders a half empty glass of water”? Politics makes so much sense now.

 

13. Wasn’t Carlos Ruiz Zafón going to publish a new book soon? When does that come out again? (looks up publishing date)

 

14. (while finishing notes on IR) I have some chocolate cream cheese left but I am out of grissini sticks. How do I make grissini sticks? (looks up recipe).

 

15. (watches last video on international relations theory) Look! A video on Game Theory

16. It’s already December. Time to start designing the photo calendars. (searches for typography Photoshop tutorials for the cover page of calendar)

The vicious cycle is cruel and endless. Pretty much explains why studying takes so much time. At least I am still an A student. 🙂

 

 

What is Education in University?

The first semester is officially over but now that I think about it, I don’t really know if I have learned anything entirely new. I am not so sure about whether there has ever been a moment when I said to myself: “Wow, there is no way I would have known this or that about the German government system or the Cold War or research methodology. had I not been in university.”

I have noticed that there is a bit of talk about how education in high school is not real education but just a waste of time and that university is the real thing while school is just something you have to drag yourself through.

I agree that university is a much greater chapter in one’s life but what is the meaning of education in this context? Is it really education by the books that makes the difference between high school and university?

I have been thinking about this and although I have no idea how university works outside of Germany, (therefore, consider this post just my way of thinking out loud) I have noticed that this isn’t so much about academic education and textbooks as it is about what YOU make of your time there.

In Germany, I am rarely obligated to attend classes because there is no attendance list or anything as such (except for seminars). If I do go to a lecture, the information I receive is not necessarily the latest scientific breakthrough. University here is supposed to be designed in such a way that students can obtain the knowledge they need by themselves if they can’t make it to class. Because there is so much independence involved, university classes strike me as rather dry and impersonal compared to what I had in high school.

So really, if we are talking about plain academic knowledge here, I could have learned everything I have learned so far completely on my own, even if I were still in high school. The textbooks used in German universities are not some rare copies. They can be found pretty much anywhere from the public libraries, to regular bookshops and ebay and often they cost as much as the newest bestselling novel.  Most of the time professors base the content of their lectures on these books because guess what…they took part in bringing them out there.

What does make university a special place for me, are the opportunities and options it opens up.  Here is to what I think about when I think about education:

For me, this semester has been all about taking the classes I am actually interested in. It has been about designing my day the way I wanted it to go. About strengthening my self- discipline because no one would check whether I had done my reading. It was all up to me now and university taught me how to deal with that sort of responsibility.

It has been about freedom. In high school you sometimes have teachers who maybe don’t know how to teach or maybe teach something that you think is not worth listening to. The exact same thing exists in university, too. The difference is however, that in university I have the freedom to get up and leave if I think the lecture is not helping me learn. Professors themselves encourage students to try alternative ways to obtain the information they need to pass the class if they don’t like the lecture. As my professor said at the very beginning: “Attending every single lecture won’t make you a top student, so don’t force yourself if you don’t want to.”

It has been about trying new things. We have a great sports department here where all students can sign up for things like Latin American dance, fencing, yoga, gliding, horse riding, skiing, belly dance, karate…you name it. While I have been rather shy in my teens, in university I have the chance to discover new interests (for a much lower price, too, since students get discounts). Furthermore, once you are approaching your post graduate studies , you can have the chance to teach a class. When I first got to the Free University, I was encouraged to take a class given by fellow students, most of whom I believe must have started their Masters degrees this semester.

It has been about learning new languages. Where else can you learn French or Arabic for free or even find a tandem partner plus all the resources you need?

It has been about exchanging ideas and expanding horizons. There is always a workshop coming up that students are encouraged to attend and that are not limited to those who are part of a specific faculty. You can visit lectures and workshops on how to write résumés in different languages, on the history of written communication, on alternative interpretations of the teachings of religions, on the psychology of certain (political) movements and so on and so forth.

It has been about using time wisely. University vacations are longer than regular school vacations. That put together with the absence of a mandatory class attendance, this may be the best time for travel before you get stuck with a 9-5 job and a family that will take most of your time.

It has been about meeting people from all over the world. The bigger the university, the more international students there are likely to be, especially since universities tend to be more popular among exchange students than high schools. I also liked the opportunity to meet people who are older than myself (I have always been the oldest student during high school so that is quite a new experience for me).

University is not so much about education by the books. There are good and bad teachers, good and bad curriculums in high schools and universities alike. Higher education should be about completing yourself. Discovering your new sides and interests, triggering your intellectual growth, opening your mind, making yourself bigger and better than you were before, making friends for life.

 

10 Signs You Study at a Leftist University

I assume that when you study political science, you might naturally expect there to be a certain tendency towards political ideologies among your fellow students. I began the semester at the Freie Universität Berlin with the same idea but initially I believed to find a few scattered groups here and there, nothing too concentrated. There should be quite some diversity in terms of political believes in a student body made of 37000 souls, right?

Well, the first thing I noticed (specifically at the political science faculty but also with respect to the student government) was the left wing spirit and it was so surprisingly overwhelming that I decided to write a post about my observations considering the leftist atmosphere of my new academic home:

You know you study at a leftist university when…

1. The first workshop offered to incoming students is about how to behave during a demonstration.

2. Your professor for political theory spends several minutes recalling enthusiastically how back in the 70s (or 80s) the Trotskysts beat the hell out ofthe Maoists.

3. The café of the political science department is called “The Red Café” and is located in a building that has been seized by students decades ago during a protest.

4. The whole campus is full of red posters with the picture of Trotsky on them, in honor of 75 years since his death.

5. There is a whole week dedicated to critical approaches to uni where you are reminded of how important it is to resist authority when needed. Seriously, I would not have been surprised if during the critical campus tour, we would have passed by the grave of Rudi Dutschke. Courtesy to this funny article for giving me that idea.

6. One of the political parties running to be elected into the student government advocates for the implementation of the United Socialist States of Europe. Because who needs the European Union anyway?

7. There is ALWAYS a reason to go out into the streets and protest and the student government leaders will not hesitate to kindly remind you of your “responsibility” via E-Mail at least once a week.

8. At least one party running for student government has something along the lines of “the young communists” in their name.

9. One of the events organized by the student initiative of The Red Café (it was a party of some sort or maybe just a movie night) was called “The Red Café Fraction”. That name comes from the left wing militant group Red Army Fraction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group.

10. Among students, your political science institute goes by the name “Johannes Agnoli Institute for Criticism of Politics”.

I know it says 10 in the title but I do remember just another one: The study and examination regulations of your faculty “strongly encourage” you to take at least one gender focused seminar. The contents of those, so I gathered from my friend, can be so hardcore that even current feminists start thinking about whether this whole feminism thing was a good idea to begin with.

 

 

Lecture Hall Noise: Concerto Nr. 1 in E Major

Some scattered thoughts on all the things you can hear inside a lecture hall instead for the actual lecture:

Some people type so vigorously on their laptops, you might think their lives depend on it. Maybe in a way they do. Two more weeks until finals.

While the crowd has just now managed to get seated, another group comes in (10 minutes late) like some animals who are finally let out to run in the open. *Sarcasm*

Someone drops their glass bottle of club mate, Berlin’s ultimate hipster drink. We hear it rolling endlessly down to the podium. How have these people remained hydrated before this magic “elixir” has flooded the local stores and the consumers’ hearts all the way from South America? Mate- doping for students and all night party hipsters.

The door slams shut behind them. Anyone ever heard of closing the door after entering when class has already started? Apparently not.

Again the squeaking of wooden chairs and tables. People getting up to let others pass into the rows of seats. I feel someone stretching out his leg next to me and climb across the last row of seats only centimeters away to my right. I’m telling you: it won’t be long until someone chops someone’s head off in the process of that “athletic performance”. *Sarcasm*

Isn’t it interesting how intensively so many people have to cough all of a sudden when you put them together in one room?

The newcomers open their bags, get out their sandwiches and cups of couscous. Let the chewing contest begin! The professor remains unimpressed. You might think he talks into empty space and doesn’t mind, which in a way is quite impressive.

The room fills with the smell of black bread with sunflower seeds, butter and lettuce.

The girl in front of me shakes her gum container. Finally, someone with a sense of rhythm! *Sarcasm*

By now the professor’s words are nothing but a hum of the sea. I might just as well use this time to practice my mindfulness technique, lulled by the soothing sound of my professor’s gentle Bavarian accent (which I do indeed find interesting to listen to, by the way), until the prototype exam questions come on the screen.

A few more reasons for why studying from home was initially not such a bad idea.

 

Learning German? Read These Books!

66463_477875572253790_1066843465_n

A friend of mine who has embarked on the tedious yet adventurous journey of learning German, has asked me whether I could recommend any German books to read.

Dumbstruck as usual whenever someone asks me to recommend something, I immediately forgot about any book I had ever seen or read in my whole life and started staring aimlessly into space. What is a book and what am I supposed to do with it??

After a short while though I started remembering my reading habits from earlier years and since most people who read this blog might still be learning German, I came up with a list not just for my friend, but for anyone else who might read this post.

I learned German through immersion so unfortunately I can’t tell what it feels like to learn German from scratch or how easy or difficult it is to build up one’s vocabulary. Therefore, I cannot say exactly on which level of proficiency you need to be in order to read these. Some of the works were written specifically for children and are therefore easier to read while others are works of classic German literature but still shouldn’t be too hard to understand.

Look at the titles, find something that you like and see how well your reading goes.  I hope you’ll enjoy! Viel Spaß!

Der kleine Prinz (The Little Prince), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry : Certainly not a German piece but I have seen this one on pretty much every list of suggested literature for beginners that I have ever come across so I guess this book should be on here as well.

 Der Struwwelpeter Heinrich Hoffmann: A children’s book made of ten rhymed stories with illustrations. The stories are about children who suffer (quite brutal) punishments after they misbehave. Maybe the fact that the author is a doctor and psychiatrist helps explain the weird nature of this book but nevertheless it is one of Germany’s classics that even made it into the school curriculum. I remember reading one of the stories in elementary school. It must have been for the good rhymes so that we would improve our reading skills…

Märchen (Fairytales), Various authors: Be it by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen or Wilhelm Hauff, fairytales may always be a good insight into the language you are studying. I find them a good source since they (their most recent versions at least) are meant for children and should therefore not be so linguistically challenging.

Die unendliche Geschichte (The Never -ending Story), Michael Ende: I have to admit that in all these years I have never come around to read this book but from all I know it is very popular and can be found in pretty much every child’s room in Germany. The setting varies from the real world and a fantastic parallel world. The story begins with the main character Bastian Balthasar Bux, who is reading a stolen book in the school’s attic instead of going to class. Eventually, the boy gets so drawn into what he is reading that the real world and the one in Bastian’s book merge into one.

Die Rechenaufgabe (The Math Problem), Otto Waalkes: Not a book but a short sketch by the German comedian Otto Waalkes about a little boy who can’t figure out how to divide 28/7 and asks his father for help. I personally included this on here because I remember liking it very much when we used it as reading and acting practice in elementary school. It is a short read and relatively simple. Maybe something to read in between to check your reading comprehension skills? Also might give you an idea of German humor (YES! We CAN be funny, too!!). You can find the text here.

Russendisko (Russian Disco), Wladimir Kaminer: Wladimir Kaminer is an author from Russia who writes about what it is like to live in Germany, the topics ranging  from politics over food to just “weird habits”, making a lot of references to Russian culture along the way. His books (I encourage you to also have a look at his other works!) are mainly in German but have by now been also translated to English in case you want to read parallel. Kaminer writes in vignettes so you don’t have to go through the trouble of following one plot but can read short pieces of text instead. His stories are also incredibly funny and especially good for people who are thinking about visiting Germany.

11705556_928070243900985_5827902965873478066_o

Kurzgeschichten (Short Stories), Heinrich Böll: The Nobel Prize for literature winner Heinrich Böll belongs to the generation of authors who were the first ones to start writing again after the horrors of WWII, hence the content of his stories revolves around that topic in particular. In German this literature era is called Trümmerliteratur or rubble literature. I would mainly suggest his work because I think he is a great writer and when I first read “Wanderer Kommst du nach Spa…”  (see page 34) while in college prep, I was thrilled by the pictures that his words would draw in front of my inner eye. He is definitely worth a try, just like his fellow writer Wolfgang Borchert and his story “Nachts schlafen die Ratten doch” (The Rats Sleep at Night).

Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis), Franz Kafka: I assume that everyone has at least at some point heard of Kafka so all I will add is that while the substance of his stories (in Metamorphosis the protagonist turns into a cockroach) might be a bit mystic and deep, his language is less complicated and can be good practice for more advanced German speakers. Another famous work of his is “Der Prozess” (The Trial) which is also available as a graphic novel. That way it might be easier to understand the plot.

Die Physiker (The Physicists), Friedrich Dürrenmatt: Originally a Swiss piece, The Physicists is a play for those of you who like drama and history. It addresses the ethical dilemma that arises when politicians gain scientific knowledge that can eventually destroy the world. The play relates to the issue of nuclear warfare during the Cold War. It is a short piece of two acts with concise sentences. We read it in college prep class last year and my fellow classmates were on German levels between B2 and C1. The reading went fairly well for everyone.

Additional Sources: 

The German version of Project Gutenberg has lots of freely available classical texts from books over poetry to drama, letters etc. If you are still looking for German authors in particular and already have a few names in mind, have a look at the authors register.

If you have access to the media libraries of German TV channels (most of  the time your IP address must be located in Germany for that to work but sometimes it doesn’t) and you think your German listening skills are somewhat advanced, check out the show  Das literarische Quartett. This is where four authors/book critics come together once a month and discuss four books that all of them had to read. I get my reading inspiration from there sometimes. Last time they presented the young adult novel Auerhaus by Bov Bjerg about a group of friends who moved together as a flat share community in a small town in Germany. The story was simple and the language brilliant. There were passages where I couldn’t help but put the book down for a moment and think: Wow, that was deep. I still remember how one of the characters says “I didn’t want to kill myself. I just didn’t want to live anymore.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of Term Thoughts

It’s been three hours since I have been sitting inside the Philological library of my university (we lovingly call it “the brain” because of its shape) and I can’t believe that I have another two hours until my French seminar, which I actually can’t afford not to attend and therefore don’t have time to go back home in between.

Looking at the bright side of things, my desperation may have been bigger had my next class been Arabic and not French. Never mix hobbies and (university) work. Just make sure that if you still put vowels where there are not supposed to be any and if you can’t read your own handwriting after five minutes, do it without the worry of having to pass that class for those 10 credits. Yes, French was a good idea after all. There are vowels all over the place so I have nothing to worry about.

Surprisingly enough, I just realized that this term is nearly over. I have another four weeks of class before it is time for finals and it seems as if it were only yesterday that I was trying to figure out how the lockers at this place work.

So I am thinking about what conclusions I can make after this first term and maybe when I have finished typing this, I will be closer to my last seminar and my way home.

Maybe the first thing I can think of is the fact that the idea of being lonely in a crowd (a massive crowd in my case) has never been so true.

I could say that after almost four months at university I don’t actually really know a soul and not a soul knows me, even though I am regularly surrounded by hundreds of people in a lecture hall. Of course there were various “introduce yourself” rounds at the beginning but where did these people go afterwards? Like when you changed your schedule after one week and suddenly found yourself in a new group when the introductory rounds are over?

There is always a way to exchange a few nice words with someone and the more people there are, the greater the variety but at the end of the day, chances are that this girl who asked you how to get to the film and drama department on a rainy Tuesday afternoon will never cross ways with you again. Instead, you could be approached by a student from the student parliament the next day who will try to convince you with all this strength to vote for the Young Communists Party during elections next week.

In a place as big as this one, people always come and go and if you want to hold on to any of them, you better like them quickly so you still have enough time to exchange phone numbers or something.

Yet, my humble social skills put aside, the anonymity here is not too bad after all. Being “just a number” has its practical sides, too. No one can actually tell whether I chose to sleep in one day or not. No one can point out exactly that I sometimes spend my time in a lecture doing crochet under my desk and if I ever get into a political argument with my professor or ask a stupid question in general, I don’t have to worry about that awkwardness following me for the rest of my time here. Let’s be honest, not even the people in my small seminars know what my name is. The next day they won’t even be able to tell that it was me who spoke.

I noticed that the days go by quicker than they used to when I was in school. I go to class, I listen and doodle on the side and then I go home. I can let my mind wander if I want to and I don’t have to speak when I don’t want to. All I do is listen which in a way, is easier than listening and answering questions because no one else will, put together. All in all, I am my own master when it comes to learning so I have less reasons to be nervous like I used to be in school. In fact, the system here is so flexible, some students live in one town of Germany but are enrolled in university in a different state. They show up for exams only and still get their degrees in the end.

I do however, greatly miss the possibility to know my professors. It was very easy to find a common ground with a teacher in school. The classes were small and the teacher was always part of the faculty. You could ask them for help or you could drop by during break or lunch to discuss stuff that interests you both.

In university that does not seem so much doable to me. The professors that I have this semester are somewhat “very important people”. Lecturing is not even the main part of their work as researchers and political scientists. They drop by here occasionally to give their educated speeches. Some even come here from other states in Germany. So if you think about it, they don’t have the time to chat with their students about anything and everything. It is only a matter of clarifying things you did not understand when reading along on their PowerPoint. They do however, encourage us to come to them with questions about exams or our term papers for which we need an appointment.

It is difficult to think that it would be possible to look up to our professors as givers of advice, people we can turn to when we can’t move forward intellectually. We are simply on a too professional level now but who knows whom I will have the pleasure of dealing with next semester?  Besides, German teachers and professors generally prefer to keep a distance to their students, compared to my experience with Americans and Canadians.

In curiosity of what the next semester will bring, I notice that indeed I am closer to today’s last seminar than I was before. J

 

 

 

The Cost of Studying in Germany

Over the last couple of months, I have come across various articles shared on my social media networks, declaring (almost festively) that attending university in Germany is free for national and international students alike.

Now that I have some time as a university student behind me, I decided to write about the extent to which studying in Germany is really free. Let me tell you right away that I can’t actually name an exact sum as expenses may vary from person to person. I want to mention some aspects that are good to keep in mind considering your budget as a potential student in Germany since the term “free education” may be interpreted differently.

Tuition fees

In comparison to the American or Canadian system, in Germany there is not really such a thing as actual TUITION fees if you choose to attend a state owned university. The university staff and anything purchased for the university is paid by the government, not by parts of the fees that students pay. There is however, a fee you have to pay each semester in order to be or stay enrolled. This we call Semestergebühren or just semester fees which are (at the university where I am at) made up of the following:

contribution to student union: € 8,70

contribution to student government: € 48, 77

enrollment/re-registration fee: € 50,00

student public transport ticket (optional): € 189,10

The public transport ticket provided by the university is optional for you to obtain. Considering the cost of a regular public transport ticket, even the one for apprentices which would cost you € 740 per year, the university ticket is your cheapest option (€ 378,20 per year).  In Berlin it covers all regions A, B and C. If you study in one city but live in another, you can get a ticket that you can use in the city of your university as well in the place you live in.

The most important thing to mention here is that while you may have to pay an administrative fee here and there, your actual college credits are free. It’s not like I have to pay higher fees a semester with my 43 credits registered, than someone who chose to do 28 this semester.

Food and drink: Mensa Card

In order to eat at the university cafeteria, you will have to purchase a so called Mensakarte, a little card onto which you can put money to pay for your meals. You have to deposit € 1,50 upon receiving the card. Once you turn it back in because you don’t need it anymore, you will get the deposit back.

Prices in university cafeterias are divided into three categories: students, staff and visitors. The student prices are the lowest and the guest prices are the highest so if you don’t pay with your cafeteria card and don’t show your student ID, you will have to pay the guest price. The price of a meal for students can range from 55 cents up to roughly € 4, depending on what you want to eat.

You can use your Mensakarte in every university cafeteria of your town but (since recently) not in other German towns.

Textbooks

At the beginning of the semester in the first week of class, pay close attention to what your prof says about textbooks. Just because you get a list of books for the course, that doesn’t mean you have to have read ALL of them in order to pass. This semester none of my professors made a book mandatory. The information essential for the exams is always distributed in class or uploaded to our online platform. Some professors might give you a list of suggested textbooks and ask you to get only one of them, whichever suits you more.

Many of the textbooks I need are provided as online resources by my university. However, that option may vary from university to university as some are funded more than others. If a textbook is not available online, there is a good chance that it will be available as a hard copy in the university library or at one of the various city libraries. In Berlin most textbooks are easy to find in big book shops or can be ordered online. They usually cost about € 20 per book, except for the one or the other very specific copy (there is one I need for a seminar that costs € 99) but even for such cases there is always a textbook flea market organized by students at the beginning of the semester, or you can find offers on eBay.

Another important thing you need to consider is the cost of living in Germany. Some sources I have come across say that a student needs about € 600 a month to survive but that really depends on your lifestyle and whether you can get a good flat sharing deal. If you are lucky, you may even get a dorm room and live on campus but let me tell you that people wait several years to finally get a dorm room so flat sharing is much more popular here.

In a way one could argue that studying in Germany is not exactly free because a.) tuition is paid by tax money of those who work (an argument I recently heard by an American) and b.) there are the semester fees. But in my opinion, compared to the unbelievable sums students pay overseas just to get their credits, cost of living put aside, Germany is really the best option for you. If you are already willing to invest thousands of dollars into your education, in Germany you will most likely be able to save some of that money.  I shall write another post about the benefits of studying in Germany as an international student in the near future hopefully.