Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Knock Knock: Studying in Austria vs. America Part 1

I've begun noticing some things that are different about studying in Austria and studying in America. 
  • Austrian lecture halls are REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE. At first glance, they look pretty similar to American lecture halls (at least at the University of Minnesota), with the stadium-style seating and the professor podium and desk at the bottom. But take away those plush individual movie-theater like seats that one is accustomed to in America and add long rows of wooden tables and wooden benches and suddenly one has the need to start kneeling and praying as if at a Catholic mass. In overcrowded lectures students squeeze together like sardines in a can and personal space disappears as students basically sit on the lap of their neighbor. It's also impossible to cross one's legs, because there is a giant metal bar under the long wooden desk/table preventing legs from being lifted an inch off the ground. Falling asleep is not an option for obvious uncomfortable conditions. At the University of Minnesota, on the other hand, everyone has their own soft comfortable seat with a personalized desk that can be folded down to allow leg crossing, sleeping, etc etc. Guess that's where a portion of my thousands of dollars' worth of tuition went back in the day.

  • I write in block letters. Is that an American thing? If I remember correctly, when I edited my peers' written work in high school and at the University of Minnesota, they also wrote in clear block letters. Austrians write in this swirly looking chicken-scratch that makes it impossible to peer over my neighbor's shoulder and try to write down what they had written when I didn't understand the professor. It makes me super self-conscious about my very legible handwriting all over my page. It screams "LOOK AT ME; I"M NOT FROM HERE!!!!" 

  • Professors receive recognition at the end of every class as the students knock on the tables; it's like the Austrian/German (European?) way of clapping. But, it takes place at the end of every class. Not just the first class, not just when there was a guest speaker, but at the end of every class.

  • Students don't really go to lectures-- or at least I have the feeling that they don't. I know several people who are signed up for classes that they never go to for multiple reasons ranging from scheduling conflicts to plain laziness. No one pays tuition (except us fine Ausländer) so there's not much of a reason to justify sitting in the aforementioned uncomfortable lecture hall when classes are free. In America, when we skipped a class, it was like throwing $300 out the window. I kind of still have that mentality, even though now I'd only be throwing maybe five euros out the window if I didn't go to class.

I'll post more differences as I encounter them along the way. Now it's time to read for my Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft (German linguistics) course. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Uni Update

I'm into my second full week of classes at Uni Wien.

It's kind of intense; not only transitioning from working for the last four years to studying full time again, but also the fact that all of my classes are in German and about scientific topics makes my head want to explode by the end of the day.

I've got seven classes. That's right: SEVEN courses. In Europe they use the ECTS credit system, which has about twice as much worth as an American credit. That means I'm taking the equivalent to a full load in America, but my classes only meet once a week rather than a few times a week like in the States. 

Classes here require a lot of self study, which is stressing me out a bit right now. Other than the material covered during my five lectures, there is nothing keeping me on track throughout the semester other than one fat giant exam at the end. Or in my case, five separate exams.

I'm taking two seminars in addition to my five lectures, and those are smaller classes that I have more assignments and presentations to complete throughout the semester. In fact, my first presentation is this Friday on the topic Lernprozess und Interaktion (learning process and interaction).

These are the classes I am taking:
  • Phonetik im Unterricht (phonetics in classroom instruction)
  • Sprachenpolitische Grundfragen (fundamental questions concerning the topic language politics)
  • Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft (German linguistics)
  • Einführung in die Beobachtung und Analyse von DaF/Z Unterricht (introduction to the observation and analysis in foreign language instruction)
  • Linguistische und didaktische Grammatik (learning how to use grammar in the classroom)
  • Einführung in Deutsch als Fremd- und Zweitsprache (introduction to German as a foreign and second language)
  • Interkulturelles Lernen und interkulturelle Kommunikation (intercultural learning and communication)
And that, is my insanely full semester. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Where's my Schultüte?

Today was a monumental day for me: I had my first Lehrveranstaltung (course) of my masters program in Deutsch als Fremd- und Zweitsprache (DaF/Z)  at Uni Wien.

It had been four years since I had taken any academic course, and just like a child before the first day of school, I had troubles sleeping because I was so excited, and slightly nervous, about what was about to come. 

There was no "back-to-school shopping" this time around, but I did buy a printer yesterday. And a used IKEA desk for five euros. I'm set. Just need a chair for my desk so I can actually begin to use the work space.

Anyway, my class today--the very first class I have properly taken at a university not in the United States--is an introductory course to the observation and analysis of the instruction of DaF/Z. I experienced my first "well this is way different than America" shock today when 60+ students tried to get into a seminar meant for 35 students. I witnessed students line up against the walls and try to convince the professor that they needed this class and THEY NEEDED IT NOW. 

However, Uni Wien has a very archaic way of distributing seats in a course through their beloved point system; every student is allotted 2,000 points of which they can use to more or less bet on their classes which aren't lectures. The more points one "bets", the better chance of getting into the course. I had understood the course to be a somewhat introduction course, so I bet quite a few points and luckily made it into the class. The professor, however, still made those of us successfully registered in the class show a physical copy of our Zulassungsbescheid (acceptance letter from the Uni). This to me was a bit strange, since we can't even register for classes without having been formally accepted.... again, a bit out-dated.

Nonetheless, I have a spot and it should be an interesting semester. I've already been assigned a Referat (presentation) on the topic of the learning process which I should give with two others in two weeks. I'm also going to be doing a ten-hour Hospitationspraktikum at a Czech cultural institute in Vienna, which will include me more or less observing German classes there. 

Another thing I noticed is that I am definitely not the only person in the program who has a different native language than German. That was a bit of a relief but not much of a surprise I suppose considering the degree is geared toward those who would like to teach German as a foreign and second language either at home or abroad.

And that, in conclusion, marks the beginning to a very new chapter in my life.