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So long, Farewell

University is most assuredly over. I’ve got results (graduating with a 2:1 – boom), I’ve been given farewell drinks by the university and now housemates are starting to move out. And it’s the last one of those things that’s really made it feel like university is over.

Getting results happens every year and so it doesn’t really say END OF UNI in big solid letters. But the fact that my friends are dispersing is bringing it home. One of my housemates I met on the first day of university. Now he’s moving to Sheffield and starting a PhD in September. And I’m going to be who knows where.

Thankfully we have the internet and mobile technology, which means even if I end up on the opposite side of the world, I can still easily keep in touch with my friends. But it’s not quite the same. There will be no more bumping into my housemates on the stairs and then chatting for half an hour. There will be no more late night cups of tea. There will be no more house.

It is difficult to say good bye, even when I know I can keep in touch so easily. Even when it’s probable we’re going to see each other again. Goodbye in English is so final. At least in German it’s “Till I see you again.”

University has been excellent and it’s mostly due to my friends. Especially the ones I’ve been lucky enough to live with. And I’m trying not to get sappy here, because no-one wants that. And I’m trying desperately not to do the grand public sentiment thing, but dash it all. Ev, Lucy and Ryan – it’s been great. You were excellent housemates for both of the years we lived together. I’ll catch you on the internet. Hopefully in real life too.

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A Suspicious Abundance of Well-behaved Kids

So, this week began, as most of them do, with tutoring prep on Monday. I decided as it was the penultimate week, I should do a recap of all the stuff that we’d done, which meant making a crossword and a match the sentence sheet.

Tuesday I was at work, though I wasn’t needed in my first class as the kids had a competence test which the English teacher had forgotten about, so I wound up supervising a class who were typing up stories on Word. I appreciate I’m 21 and not 8, but I was still a little shocked that none of them knew how to change the font size on Word. Happily, explaining how to use Word auf Deutsch isn’t too difficult. Or at least it isn’t as long as the kids listen. I also had to explain to them that the computer doesn’t know every word in the dictionary and sometimes it’ll tell you you’re wrong when you’re right. Especially if you’re typing up from a piece of work your teacher has already corrected. Not that they listened.

In my second and third class they were practicing dates and numbers and colouring in. None of which really requires me, but the colouring at least means, that for the most part, they all behaved. In the evening I made dominoes for tutoring to recap vocab from the year, which meant going back through what we’ve done this year. Which is a lot more than I thought.

Wednesday began with circle time and that class found out it was my last lesson with them. I’m going to miss first period on Wednesdays. It always starts with circle time and there’s always at least one kid who says they’re happy that I’m there again. And Jonas always remembers to include me in circle time despite me never actually sitting in the circle. We didn’t actually do English because the dentist was in school so the kids were in and out of class. But I did learn about what teeth are called in German.

Second period I talked about birthdays and then we played pass the parcel. Which had some of the kids very excited. So much tactical playing went on. In my third class I wasn’t needed and in my fourth I was supervising colouring in again, advising on what colour to colour apples.

At tutoring we did all the recap stuff I’d prepared and then the kids made pictures of their favourite topics from this year. For Vicky it was animals and for Luka it was London.

On Thursday I did German with Klasses 3/4c for the last time, and for the first time in the whole year they were all super well behaved. Still a little smartalecy,but well behaved none the less.

Friday began with the topic favourite places. I’m glad that while they’ve been doing favourite places they haven’t asked me, because trying to explain why Harrods food hall is my favourite place is difficult. And then I was asked to explain telling the time. This is difficult because here in Ilmenau they tend to use regional terms rather than standard German for the time. So instead of explaining English to Standard German, it was a case of explaining English to Standard German and then attempting to say it in Ilmenauese as well.

In my second class they went round the circle to wish me luck and happiness and sunshine and a nice new school for once I leave. We were doing about families still and I was listening to them explain their family trees to me. At the end one of the boys came up and said it sucked that I was leaving, and did I really have to go back to England? Which was super sweet.

In my final class they were doing colouring again, and yet again a normally rowdy class was very well behaved. I think there’s something in the water.

Saturday was spent not doing a fat lot. On Sunday I did the Brits proud and forgot to put any sun cream on and now my back is burnt to a crisp. Well done me. I also started packing, which basically entailed putting my winter clothes in a suitcase. All hardcore packing is waiting for next week. So if I’m unreachable in the second half of the week, it’s because I’ve died under the weight of all the packing. 

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Talkin’ right good German.

I’m headed home tomorrow. Not for good, just for 2 weeks. But as I’m about to talk non stop English for a while, I feel like this is a good time to blog about how my German skills are going.

My German has definitely improved. There is no denying that. Being in Ilmenau means I am speaking German 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Well, not quite. But about 85% of the words coming out of mouth are Deutsch. The other 15% is made up of 10% English (well, I am teaching English) and probably 4% nonsense words and 1% other languages – namely Arabic, Russian and Spanish. I do have to hold my hands up and say I’m still watching films in English, and the only radio I listen to is Cabin Pressure on repeat, so naturally that’s in English too. And while I am still, slowly, working my way through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in German, the rest of the books I’ve been reading are in English.

But as I said, my German is improving. I can hold conversations, I can explain various British holidays and I can even understand the tannoy announcements in Erfurt railway station. I think the most impressive part for me is that I’ve even begun to be able to conjugate ‘ihr’ without really thinking about it. ‘Ihr’ is the familiar plural you, which means any time I want to say you to more than one person I speak informally to (aka classes of children) I have to use ‘ihr’. But when you’re learning German, you never need to use ‘ihr’. Not ever. And while you do learn to conjugate it, that information gets stored in a box at the back of your brain along with how unclog a toilet and how to call an ambulance. The box that houses the skills that you need to know but hope you’re never going to have to use. But the time has come for ‘ihr’ and now I can conjugate the verbs a good, ooh, 20% of the time without stopping half way through a sentence.

What I’m trying to say, is that being in Germany, specifically a part of Germany where I have to speak German, is significantly improving my German. Yes, I still put the wrong ending on a verb from time to time; yes, my vocabulary could do with being broader, and yes, I have no idea what I’m doing with prepositions. But you know what? Half the time when I mess up the Germans don’t know what I should have said either, because they treat German the way I treat English. With a lack of respect and no care for what the grammar books say. I look forward to being able to treat German the same way.

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Communication, Communication, Communication

During my time there, my high school was a language college. Now it’s a maths and IT specialist school, and how specialist can you really be when all you’re doing is changing your focus based on what subject the government is throwing money at? But that’s a post for another time. While I was there, the focus was on languages, which meant it was compulsory for me to learn 2 languages from Year 7 until Year 11. (That’s first year to fifth year for the older generation. Or the Harry Potter super fans.)  So as an 11 year old, I started learning Japanese and German.

Japanese really wasn’t as bad as you’d expect, especially as it meant we spent the first year learning 2 of the alphabets. This meant we played with flashcards and came up with dumb reasons to remember the characters. For example, the hiragana character for ‘ma’ looks like a person holding a baby. Aka a Mom. Aka Ma.

The thing was, learning German and Japanese didn’t really impact my life. Other than my teachers I didn’t know anyone who spoke these languages. Hindi and French would have served me far better. But then I did a few German exchanges as well as one to Japan and learning these languages suddenly made far more sense. There were whole countries of people that I could now communicate with. In very broken German and horrendous Japanese, but it was a start.

And I know it seems obvious – if you learn languages of course you can communicate with more people, but having grown up in England on a steady diet of “Everyone speaks English”, it wasn’t obvious to me. I mean, when I was 10, I made friends with a French girl in Paris for all of half an hour. When I had to go, I went up to her Mom and very politely asked her to tell her daughter I’d had fun and that I was sorry I didn’t speak French. She laughed at me. She didn’t speak English. It had never occurred to me that there were adults who didn’t speak English. I knew some adults spoke other languages as well, but I had never once considered the possibility that there were people in the world that I couldn’t talk to.

And that’s the beauty of learning a language. When you learn a language swathes of the world open up to you. I mean, there are all sorts of reasons to learn a language. I kept up German because I was good at it. I did beginners Russian because I thought it sounded cool. I did beginners Arabic because I didn’t have to queue to sign up for it. But whatever the reason for beginning a language, you end up being able to talk to people you would never have been able to before.

For a real life example, and indeed the story that inspired this post, I present to you a tale from today. Today one of my neighbours asked me how I was in German. Fifteen minutes later, we were friends. We spoke in German, English and Arabic. Starting in German, he switched to English when I said I was English and when he said he came from Syria, I brought out my (very basic) Arabic. If neither of us had bothered to learn a foreign language, we would have been stuck at nodding to each other in the hallway. Of course, if neither of us had bothered to learn a foreign language, we never would have met. And I shudder to think of the friends I never would have met if I hadn’t bothered to learn a language.

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The Day of the Doctor

Warning: Here be spoilers. If you have not yet watched the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who and wish to go in knowing nothing, do not read this post. I won’t have you blaming me for wrecking it for you.

I am a massive geek. This is not news. So when I found out that the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who was being shown in Erfurt, I went and got a ticket. I was super excited. I love Doctor Who, I really do. When I checked my ticket yesterday though, it turned out I’d accidentally bought a ticket for the 10.45 showing, which would mean a five hour wait in Erfurt railway station, waiting for the first train to Ilmenau in the morning.  I’m not going to lie to you, I was fairly prepared to do that. But first I went to the cinema to see if they had any tickets left for the half eight showing. They had five.

With a spring in my step because I could see Doctor Who and get home before 7am, I then headed to the fish and chip place, because if I was going to have an evening of Englishness, by George, I was going to do it properly. This also meant forgetting how to speak German and having the cashier resort to talking to me in English – something which hasn’t happened in a really long time. Ah well. Blame it on Doctor Who.

When I went back to the cinema, I was super excited to see people dressed up. I could have gone all Amy Pond because I am now ginger and do own a miniskirt and (many pairs of) boots. But it was cold. So instead I wore all the layers and my Tardis T-shirt. I ended up asking a woman in a TARDIS dress which screen it was in, in very bad German. Five minutes later, she walked past with her boyfriend telling him, in English, all about the German girl who complimented her dress. I was that German girl. I managed to talk in German to one of the few other native English speakers there. Well done me…

The atmosphere in the cinema was incredible. Everyone was so excited, and when the adverts went on for ages, you could feel everyone getting more and more anxious for the start of the episode. Of course, because we were in a cinema, we got two (yes, two) pre episode shorts. One with Commander Strax explaining movie etiquette to us and the punishment for breaches thereof. (Pain. Lots of pain.)And one with the 11th Doctor telling us to activate our 3D spectacles and how to tell if the person next to you is a Zygon. Then we had the 10th Doctor telling us to watch out for the 11th Doctor’s chin in 3D. And then it started.

Yes, there were cheers/screams/squeals when David Tennant first appeared. Yes, references to Old Who got cheers. Yes, meta references were greatly appreciated. There were, of course, a few jokes where I was the only one laughing because it passed the Germans by. Like the throwaway line about Derren Brown, and the one about Dick Van Dyke. And I may have laughed at “we have peace in our time” and then realised I probably wasn’t in the best country to be laughing at that. And there was applause at the end, and a girl behind me said that she was dead and it was the BBC’s fault. Which seemed about right. (For all you tumblrites, ‘feels feels feels’ is the same auf Deutsch.)

My only gripe about it was the lack of Christopher Eccleston. But let’s face it, that was always going to be my problem, because he is my Doctor. I love Matt Smith, and David Tennant’s okay, but for me the ninth Doctor will always be THE Doctor. But there was so much good about the episode. From Bad Wolf’s costume (I love love loved it) to the Tom Baker cameo, it was fabulous. I loved it a lot and I want to rewatch it stat. Shame I have terrible internet here. Guess I’ll have to wait till Christmas.

Coming out of the cinema I phoned home, because I needed to spaz out about the episode with someone or someones, and those people ended up being Beth’s voicemail, Lucy (who didn’t know who I was – very disappointed) and my Dad. I sat in the railway station for a good twenty minutes deconstructing the episode with Dad. When I got off the phone the people next to me were geeking out about it in German, so I may have asked their opinions. They looked hella shocked that I could speak German, but hey. I got to talk to some people out here about it.

And then on my train home, I bumped into Julio and Javier from the BC Café, which was an excellent end to a fantastic evening. If you watched Doctor Who, I hope you had as good an evening as me. And if you didn’t watch Doctor Who, that you are re-evaluating your life choices.