Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Three day weekend!

What a great day: The sun is finally out and it's 60 degrees. But sadly, I can see the rain clouds rolling back in...

This past weekend I was in Ried im Innkreis, where Heather lives. It's only about a 37 minute train ride away, so it's just a hop, skip and a jump away. I arrived Friday, and we didn't do much but get groceries and check out 7 dvds for the weekend. We only ended up watching 2 1/2 of them during the long three-day weekend. Friday night we met up with her neighbors.

Saturday the two of us took the circus train to Passau, where we met up with John and Tim, two other TAs. Passau is in Germany, but right on the border to Austria. It's well-known for being the "Dreifluessestadt" or the City of Three Rivers, because the Inn, Ilz and Danube all merge into the grand Danube. You can actually see where the rivers meet, so it's pretty cool. Passau is an interesting little city and there are quite a few shops and places worth seeing. They also have one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen that contains the largest church organ in the world. After sight seeing and taking pictures we enjoyed a couple of beers at a typical Bavarian restaurant. Living close to the German border is nice, because the beer there is much cheaper, and much better than in Austria.

We headed back to Ried that night and met up with Heather's neighbor again. He took us out and we experienced Ried's night life, which is sadder than Braunau's (sorry Heather, but it's true). Sunday was a lazy day and we had a Til Schweiger movie marathon. Til Schweiger is like Germany's Brad Pitt. We spent Sunday night out in the town again, since Monday was the national holiday and we didn't have to go to school. And then yesterday I came home.

All in all, it was a great weekend, even for the Innviertel. I guess it doesn't matter which small town you're in as long as you have good company!

Where the three rivers meet in Passau

John, me, Heather and Tim in Passau

The church in Passau with the largest church organ in the world. And the place where I would be okay with getting married someday

The two pumpkins I wound up with after a night out in Ried

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Amber In The Big City

Back in Braunau after a long and wet weekend. I'm starting to really get sick of this weather. I moved to Austria, not Seattle or Norway. But for the last week and a half it has been cloudy, foggy, cold, rainy and damp.

And finally the sun has started to shine :)

It was wonderful being in Linz. I was able to meet up with a bunch of the TAs, shop til I dropped a ton of Geld/money, experience the interesting night life of Linz, and not have to think about lesson planning. Due to the disgusting weather conditions, we spent most of our time indoors and avoiding the rain. I didn't quite experience why Linz is the culture capital of Europe this year, but hopefully next time I will be able to see some of the museums and sights.

And now an assortment of photos from the weekend:

A view of Linz

The result of spending 70 Euros at H&M (just me by the way). Heather and me

This summarizes the whole weekend: rainy and cold. Umbrellas were a must. But this church is pretty cool! We sought refuge there for around 45 minutes while it was downpouring.

All You Need is Laugh? Can someone please explain this to me....

Apfelstrudel and Coffee in a cafe. AKA: Trying to avoid the rain

Hauptplatz- The Main Square in Linz

Essential dorm vending machine items: Pepsi, Alp drink and three different kinds of Zipfer beer

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Nicest Event I Will Ever be Inivited to in Austria

Yesterday wrapped up my second week of teaching in Austria. Busy week: tons of new faces; 10 introduction games; lessons on the Amish, American perceptions of the EU, Obama and the Peace Prize and the Mall of America; six hours of my second job (should only be three hours a week); a trip to the veterinarian with Blacky because she has worms and fleas (gross); dinner with the TAs in Simbach; time spent on trying to fix my bike (didn't work); finally receiving some money for my second job (shopping spree!); and then a train ride to Linz, where I currently am!

I met up with Heather on the train and we sat in amazement when we began approaching civilization again-- a big city! It's funny how quickly I became accustomed to a particular surrounding so fast, despite having lived in a big city the last four years. Thus upon arrival in Linz (population 190,000), I felt like I was visiting something equivalent to New York City. My initial thoughts were "a real train station with more than one track?! three different street car lines?! plenty of shops and museums?!"- I had to take it all in and savor all the sites.

We met up with Emily and Matt at the station, other TAs who live in Linz. Afterward, we went to get ready for the event that we all had been invitied to: The Austro-American Society of Upper Austria's 60th Anniversary Gala Event. Inivitation read business attire. Let me just say, that was probably the poshest and nicest event I will be invited to this whole year in Austria. Despite the "business casual" attire of school consisting often of nice jeans and a blazer, the attendees were dressed to the nines. We also noticed immediately that it was a sea of gray, and we that we were most likely the youngest guests. The whole evening was paid for by the Society, which meant an open bar for the whole night and a buffet dinner consisting of Austrian entrees and American desserts... things like pecan pie, chocolate chip cookies, key lime pie- the things that make me giddy about America and miss going to a cafe and ordering pie. And by the way, we as guests didn't have to pay for a single thing, even though we aren't even members! The Society found out about the TAs and invited all of us during orientation.

The event opened with a cocktail/social hour and followed by the main program. The St. Florian Boys Choir opened with some songs, and we all chuckled quietly to ourselves as they sang "Happy Birsday to You" to the Society. Then, I believe the president of the Society spoke, but it could have been someone totally different. He spoke all in German, and after having two glasses of free wine on an empty stomach, my attention span was not to the level of understanding his three minute long German speech. Thankfully we were given a break when the US Ambassador to Austria spoke and congratulated the Society in English since he doesn't speak German. Hm... shouldn't that be a requirement for an Ambassador, to speak the language of the country in which you live? Later on we met the Ambassador himself and learned how to become an Ambassador: campaign and raise a lot of money for the President and get along with him. A background in politics, international studies, or the like? Doesn't matter. Just have money and a sparkling personality!

Following the program we dashed into the buffet room and piled our plates so full of food. Again, free food for TAs who won't get paid until mid-November. And then we repeated the process with the desserts. We bummed around for a while making use of the open bar and eventually met a few of the members. And then it was time to go, since we were becoming the loud and boisterous Americans we are, and since we were the last ones lingering.

After an interesting bus ride home in which a group of Austrian guys were confronted with the fact that some Americans do speak German, we called it a night and headed to bed.

Today I hope to make use of being a big city. Linz is the culture capital of Europe 2009, but screw museums- I want to shop!

Pictures soon to come.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Becoming Braunauian

Tomorrow will mark one month of living in Braunau. Despite my city roots, I actually- gasp- kind of like living in a small town. For one thing, I can do things like walk to Germany from my house. Secondly, there is no crime. I can walk around town late at night by myself without worrying about watching my back. I still instinctivly have a third eye in the back of my head, but there is literally no one on the road. Also, I am starting to see familiar faces when I am out and about, which is nice when acclimating oneself to a foreign environment.

When I first arrived in Braunau I knew few people. My days were empty; I had ample amounts of free time to waste online, watch TV, go jogging, walk around the city… whatever I wanted. I simply had n-o-t-h-i-n-g to do. After orientation, my position has completely changed! My schedule between the two schools reminds me of being back in college; my schedule varies day to day, albeit being fixed for the most part. I normally have a one-two hour break inbetween lessons, so I can prepare for the next lesson, hang out at the school, talk to teachers, run to eat lunch, etc. I usually don’t start earlier than 8:40, but on most days I start around 10. And I’m done around 2 or 3. After lessons I usually waste time online while slowly preparing lessons for the coming days. In the evenings I hang out with people, teach at my second job, or make much needed Skype calls. Whew!

This weekend a teaching assistant living in Ried, Heather, came to visit me. She is the closest TA to me, although Ried is 37 minutes away by the “circus” train as Adam would call it. And then the infamous half hour walk from the train station to my house. Heather and I went on a shopping spree in Braunau on Friday. That is, we went to almost all of the stores, and it only took two hours! I did manage to finally buy a jacket at the Austrian/German equivalent to “JcPenny”. Unfortunately Braunau isn’t known for its high fashion stores... While in the area of the supermarket similar to Wal-Mart Supercenter, we decided we should also get groceries. And a six pack. The walk back to my house must have been a comical sight for those driving by us, as we were struggling to carry everything in our bare hands and in the few bags I had brought with. Just a quick FYI for those of you unfamiliar with shopping at supermarkets in Europe: you need to bring your own recycable bags. Of course you have the option of buying them at the store, but who wants to do that?

Friday night Heather and I experienced the “posh” nightlife of Braunau. We met up with one of my older students and went with her to a club called Palazzos, one of the newest and hippest “clubs” in Braunau. Heather and I simply sat back and observed, a bit to shy to go to the middle of the dance floor and dance alone, since the majority of the club-goers awkwardly lined the wall with drinks in their hands shouting over the DJ announcing crazy antics like: “Ladiezzz and Gentlemen. Happy Wilkommen in Palazzzzzzoooooooos!” (Wilkommen= welcome). Happy welcome? Ugh. Still trying to understand how the simplest of English phrases can become so twisted when suddenly added to foreign vocabulary.

Saturday afternoon was spent by giving Heather the grand tour of Braunau, walking to Germany and eating ice cream there, and meeting with one of Heather’s students who lives in Braunau at the restaurant in the Cinema. Another side note, Cinema complexes are totally rad hangouts in small town Austria. Braunau’s contains not just the cinema, but also a restaurant and bar, a pizzeria, and a cafĂ©. Oh, and “Die Maus” club. Heather’s student taught us some helpful Austrian vocabulary, so I now will be able to finally understand that the person at the grocery store is saying 2.50 without looking at the register.

A bit later, we met Adam, another teaching assistant who lives in Feldkirchen, about five or so hours from Braunau. We spent the night in after getting drenched from the terrential rain. On Sunday we made a wonderful breakfast and then bid our farewells with Heather. Adam and I repeated the Braunau/Simbach tour and spent the rest of the day hanging out and watching trashy American celebrity TV shows dubbed in German.

Today I experienced taking an animal to the vet in Austria. The cats are sick with worms and fleas. Gross. This is why I think cats should just stay indoors. Nonetheless, they should be getting better. Then this evening I met up with two teaching assistants in Simbach. So finally, there are other assistants practically in Braunau!

In conclusion, life is too busy to write blogs. I need to get a routine down and stick to it. No time to waste!

Oops- I Keep Forgetting This: MY HOUSE!

I keep trying to post a video of my house here in Austria. Hopefully this time it works!

And maybe this video will encourage visitors?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Becoming a Teacher... er, assistant

Well my first week of teaching is almost over. And so far, so good! Here are some things I have experienced/noticed with the Austrian school system:

My real experience in the classroom began on Tuesday with a group of about 25 students. Despite clear guidelines and regulations, my teacher threw me in the classroom all alone my first time. Honestly, though, not a big deal; we only did introductions with one another. Just irked me a bit, since it was my first time, and she's technically not supposed to ever leave me unsupervised... Even when I talked with her afterwards, she assured me that the only way to get the students to talk and participate is by leaving me with them throughout the year. I hope she's right and not trying to take advantage of the TA... Nonetheless, the group of students should be okay to work with. They talk a bit over me, but hopefully they'll calm down.

My second lesson was at my other school, the HLW. My students are primarily girls there, and they are very talkative. I simply told them a bit about my life and my background, and I passed around some photos. They loved hearing about the differences between America and Austria, and were quick to invite me out to an event this weekend.

Can I just pause for a moment and say how I love being in the position I am; I am not a teacher, nor am I a student. I cannot grade nor discipline students. I am a fresh face and close in age. They believe the things I say as a representative of my country and culture, and they want to talk forever about it.

My third and final lesson so far this week was yesterday at the HLW. I had a list of true and false statements prepared about myself (shout out to Adam for the idea), and it went over so well! One of the statements was "I speak Swedish", which is false. Of course they were correct with their guess, but their reasoning was "because your family name is Danish, so you must speak Danish". Prior to this question I had explained my last name, as well as my ancestry. I hope I didn't confuse them, and now they think all Americans with European descent speak that language....

And this morning I accompanied an advanced English class from the HLW to Salzburg to see "The Tempest". The play was modern and in German, so of course it was just totally crazy. Thus far I have seen two plays in Europe, and they both were super modern and weird. I guess I just don't get theater. At least I met a few more students closer in age to me who invited me to do some things with them.

Tomorrow I have two more lessons, but once again it's just introductions. Fortunately there are about 10 different English classes and levels at each of my schools, so recycled lessons are okay (meaning I get to play introduction games for the first couple of weeks...).

Now some differences between the Austrian and American school systems:
1. It's completely different. In America, we have elementary school, middle school/junior high, and high school. No deviation. In Austria, they have elementary school, and then there are around five or six different paths one can take. Most secondary schools here (like high school) each specialize in a special area. One of my schools, HAK, specializes in business administration. HLW specializes in tourism and service industries. Thus, students learn general high school subjects (history, math, literature) while also focusing on specific classes or skills.
2. Students have to pass a set of exams at the end of their school career called the Matura to get their "degree". They are pressured from the beginning of the year to study and do well.
3. Standards are much higher. Forget grade inflation like in the US.
4. Students don't really travel throughout the school during the day. Rather, they stay in one class all day with the same students while teachers move about the school.
5. Students stand when a teacher enters the room and cannot sit until the teacher tells them to.
6. Students and teachers are blunt and brutally honest. If they don't like something, they will say it. If they think something isn't done well, they won't sugar-coat anything. Basically, they say it like it is.
7. Discipline? I've heard that teachers don't discipline much. Apparently students are not sent to the principal's office if they misbehave. Thankfully I haven't experienced the lack of discipline thus far...
8. Teachers don't really have their own offices. Rather, they all share a giant room called a conference room.
9. Sometimes you have to pay for your own coffee, even as a teacher. At the HAK, it appears that they have their own coffee free of charge. At the HLW, one must buy tokens at the secretary that are valid for a certain type of coffee machine.
10. Students must wear "house shoes" in the school. When they enter the building, they need to remove their shoes near the front door and wear either socks or slippers throughout the day. Teachers may wear whatever they like.

I am currently preparing lessons for next week. Again, I just love being a TA. One of my teachers told me to find something about tourism in Minnesota. So my students are going to learn about Mall of America. Another lesson I need to prepare is about Amish Life, so we are going to watch a parody song called "Amish Paradise" by Weird Al. My third lesson will be about the EU. I'm supposed to find statistics or an article about American public opinion towards the EU which might be a difficult task. Honestly, I don't think Americans really know much or even care about the EU. I might have to take a different approach...

Off to the movies now! A younger teacher at the HLW invited me to the cinema and a drink today. Tomorrow Heather, another TA who is living a half hour from me, is coming to visit. Busy days ahead!

Monday, October 5, 2009

And so it starts

Time sure flies by when you're having fun and actually have things to do.

Last week I had my orientation seminar with the other Fulbright teaching assistants from America and the UK. The location of the seminar was in a small ski-resort town in the middle of the Alps-- absolutely gorgeous. Coming from the flat Upper Midwest, and having to spend the
next year in the flattest area of Austria, I was simply in awe in Hinterglemm.

It's hard to sum up the week. Each day consisted of a "crash course" in becoming a teaching assistant from around 8:30 am to 8 pm, with little breaks throughout the day. We learned how to write lesson plans, how to find resources for lessons, how to give lessons, etc. We ate heavy Austrian meals, climbed a mountain (6000 feet tall!) to burn off the calories consumed throughout the week, and performed in a variety show during the last night. At night we frequented one of two bars in the town, the Hexelhauesl (Witches' House), a themed bar decorated with witches and spooky things. And most im
portantly, we made lots of friends!

Variety Hour-- this picture is learning how to do Scottish Dance

The Hexelhauesl

View of the mountains during the hike

The end of the orientation was bitter-sweet. Everyone was excited to get started in their respective schools, but I think at the same time, everyone was sad to leave and head back to their towns and twiddle their thumbs with nothing to do. On the bright side, we now all have a wide network of people whom we can visit throughout the year... once we get paid in November. And as a side note, they are creating a direct train route from Braunau to Salzburg in December, which means it will take less than an hour to get to a bigger city! YAY!!!!!

After orientation, I headed to Munich with Nathan, another TA from America. We met up with his friends and of course we went to Oktoberfest. We were welcomed in Munich with thousands of Germans wearing Lederhosen and Dirndl (traditional women's dress). The city was packed and crazy. Oktoberfest itself was quite the experience. We arrived at the Hacker-Pschorr tent at around 8:30 am, and barely made it into the tent. In fact, the security guard at one of the lines told us we couldn't come in until we got rid of our food. As we finished it, he told us we needed to go to the main line, and we couldn't come in this line anymore, although one minute had passed. I looked at the main line and thought, "Oh no, we will not get in". So I busted out my German and started arguing with him, his colleague came over and asked what the problem was, and we were allowed to go in :) Finding a seat took about an hour, although there were thousands of places to sit. We finally managed to find a place to hang out and had a great time! Germans were dancing on the tables, singing silly songs, drinking lots of beer, and eating lots of wurst.

Hacker-Pschorr Tent: A little bit of Heaven

And now after all the fun of orientation and Oktoberfest, I am back in Braunau and ready to settle for a while. Yesterday was my first day at my two schools. I went to my first school, the HAK, and met my teachers and mentor teacher. Apparently my mentor teacher won't even be working with me this year. Everyone was very nice, although much older than me. The only annoyance I have is that they screwed up my schedule and thought I am working 15 hours rather than 13. They also had a fixed schedule for me, so I didn't really have any say in what I can do. At least it is only Monday-Weds.

My second school is the HLW, and I am very impressed so far. The English teachers are very friendly and happy to have me, and the staff is much younger. There are a few teachers who are my age, and one has invited me already to go to a movie this week. They recognized right away the mistake of 15 hours, and they are going to try to always give me Fridays off. :)

Today I will have two lessons where I actually meet the students. As far as I know, I won't be doing much, other than some introductions in one lesson, and observing in the other. We'll see how it goes!