Posts Tagged ‘Germany’


Lauren: Home Sweet Home

January 1, 2012

But now I need to catch you up on some things:

1. The day I almost died. On November 13th I went on a jeep safari on Langjökull glacier. It was AWESOME! I saw so many amazing sights and it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I got this opportunity through Inspired by Iceland and I was allowed to bring one guest, so my friend Emily Anderson came along! We packed a lunch filled hit the road early in the morning with our guide Sverrir. It was a caravan of about 50 jeeps and we had a blast! Until we almost died. Glaciers are tricky little things. They are solid ice and constantly moving so the ice cracks and crevasses form. Snow covers cracks and it makes glaciers very dangerous places to be! But I just had to keep telling myself that Sverrir knew what he was doing… until of course our jeep fell into a crack! It was so terrifying! But I lived to tell the tale…. However, I think for now I will take a little break from glaciers.

All the jeeps!

Our Jeep with Sverrir!

2. My trip to Berlin and Prague! Two of my friends, Emily Wall and Akeem, and I went to Berlin and Prague November 14th-21st. We had such a nice time. I experienced staying in a hostel for the first time in my life among many other things that I tried or saw that I may never have an opportunity to again. We flew into Berlin and stayed at The Circus Hostel in a room withe 4 sets of bunkbeds, 1 rude Irish guy, and 3 friendly Brazlians. That night we walked around our neighborhood in Berlin and got some delicious CHEAP food for the first time in months! Since everything is so expensive in Iceland we were LOVING the prices in Germany and the Czech Republic…. maybe a little too much in my case. The next day we took a nice little bus ride to Prague. I LOVED PRAGUE! I loved everything about Prague, the food, the shopping, the castles, the EVERYTHING. I would definitely go to Prague again. It was so beautiful. We were in Prague for 3 days and then we went back to Berlin for 3 days. Berlin, although a really historic city, was not my favorite. It was kind of eerie to me to think about everything that has happened in Berlin from WWII to communism… it just kind of made me sad. But despite that, we went on a GREAT bike tour and I learned a lot about the city. The trip was really fun but I couldn’t help but think about how much I wished my family was with me! If you click THIS then it will bring you to my Facebook photo album. It has pictures from both my trip AND the glacier safari. But here are some of my favorites:





Max: Education Systems

November 19, 2011

The most prominent differences between the USA and Germany, and the ones I encounter each day, are the differences in the styles of higher education. These are some of the more general differences I’ve noticed.

Many aspects of university study at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and, I think, in Germany in general are less formal or regulated than they are in the USA. For example, regular lecture and discussion attendance is not required for a course. Even registration in a course is not required to get credit for it; the only thing that matters is that the student passes the single exam at the end of the semester.

I realize that class attendance is not strictly mandatory in most universities in the US, but the homework and midterm exams given in discussions and lectures often counts for a significant portion of a student’s final course grade along with the final exam grade (at least at the U of M). This is not the case at TUM; the final exam grade is the final course grade. Professors do assign homework for classes, but since this is not factored into the course grade it’s also technically optional. The tutors who run the discussion sections only give mild admonishments to students who don’t turn in their homework (which is often most of the class).

As is the case with many good things, I didn’t realize how helpful a midterm exam or regular graded homework was to my academic performance until I didn’t have either anymore. Homework and midterms served as a useful academic barometer for my current level of understanding of the course material. With the homework I’m getting at TUM I’m never sure whether the problems are really the type I’ll see on the exam (Physics students who have had to contend with WebAssign might know what I mean). They also provided a good incentive to keep up with the course material. I find regular assignments and exams a much better motivator to study than the distant, vague threat of an exam on the horizon.

Academic issues aside, I’ve also seen differences in campus organization that reflect a more independent attitude in student life. The standard US college campus with its clusters of academic buildings close to student housing and, in the case of city campuses, local restaurants and businesses is nowhere to be found in Munich. The main student housing is fifteen minutes away by train from either of the TUM main campuses and one of the campuses lacks any independent local restaurants or businesses in the immediate vincinity. The phenomenon of US college sports, including the ubiquitous campus mascot and a feeling of campus identity, also seems to be absent here.

I’m sure many readers who have been to, or are currently attending, a college or university in the US remember the feeling of increased independence and self-reliance that comes with moving out of your parents’ home, taking classes you like, and being encouraged to independently investigate and study the course material instead of just memorizing facts. Many of the above differences can be summarized as an extension of this independence, whether for better or worse.

There’s a relevant current event I wanted to write about before it becomes old news: The Bildungsstreik (Educational Strike), which took place last Thursday, was a large, organized student protest on a whole variety of educational topics. The whole list of demands is here. Since the website behind the link is in German, I’ll summarize: It reads at first like a typical list of idealistic demands, asking for reduced tuition, better equality in education, more of a voice for students in educational politics, more money for education instead of military and banks, and… wait. Sorry, that first one should be no tuition. Also, free (as in “free beer”) transportation and food for all students.
Most American students would be pretty surprised by such demands. We’re used to paying ten to fifty thousand dollars per year for tuition, not including room and board. Even state-financed public institutions still rely heavily on tuition from students. However, things are a bit different in Europe. In many ways, the political systems here are much more heavily socialized than in the USA. Many countries have universal free health insurance (excluding Germany, which does have a “public option”), and, until recently, completely free education. Of course, anyone who has taken basic economics knows that there’s really no such thing as a free lunch; the money has to come from somewhere. In Europe, it comes from taxes much higher than what we’re used to in the USA. As an example, the average sales tax in the USA is somewhere around six percent. In Germany, it’s 19%.
This difference is really a choice enforced by custom. In Germany, students get to study for very little money; in exchange, they pay more taxes when they start earning income. In the USA students are faced with the full cost of their education, or a significant portion thereof, and may be forced to take up jobs, take out loans, or apply for scholarships to offset the short-term cost. When they graduate, however, they should have a larger portion of their incomes available to pay off whatever debts they may still have. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, the recent Eurozone crisis has illustrated the risks of such a large, complex, interconnected system. On the other hand, many American students are simply unable to pay for college, leaving them with crushing five-figure debts or an unfinished education. What I’m trying to illustrate is that no one system is inherently better than another; they just work differently.
On a side note, in case you’re wondering how much exactly this tuition is that Munich’s students marched against: It’s 542 euros per semester. For an American student, that’s peanuts. That’s why, despite all my best attempts to understand the European system, I still can’t support a movement that wants to free students from paying this sum, barely more than two months’ rent in Munich’s cheapest apartments, when there are American colleges demanding fifty times this amount per semester from their students.
For all the idealistic demands made by the Bildungsstreik movement, there are some realistic concerns about trends in the educational system I’ve noticed myself. There are other important ways in which the German system is more strictly regulated, infringing on the student’s independence in some pretty concerning (in my opinion) ways. At TUM, students have very little choice when it comes to their selection of courses in the first few years of their study. Physics students, for example, are given a schedule which describes the courses they will take for the first two years of their study. The only degree of freedom in this schedule is the selection of two electives to fulfill a type of “liberal education requirement” (e.g. a course on technology and society) to ensure students aren’t just taking physics courses. Relatedly, it seems very hard — if not impossible — to double major at TUM, a relatively common practice at the U of M. Switching majors seems just as difficult at TUM; at the U of M, students don’t formally decide on a major until their second or third year.
The reason I called these characteristics concerning is that they seem to be aimed at the standardization of higher education at the expense of student independence. To be clear, I’m not against standardization of certain aspects of higher education, such as the credit system to ease the process of transferring between schools. There are, however, ways in which standardization can do more harm than good, at least from the perspective of an American student.
Students at the U of M, at least in the majors I’ve looked at, are given significant freedoms in choosing courses to fulfill the requirements of their individual majors. Students can choose courses because they’re interested in them, not just because the courses are required. Because of this, an education can be an extremely intellectually stimulating experience where students are allowed to explore their interests in a field and, if they don’t like it, switch to another one. Of course, some majors, most notably engineering fields, have a reduced degree of freedom, but several of the course decisions are still left up to the student, and double majoring is (in theory) still possible. With the rigid, standardized German model, in which students are expected to complete their bachelor’s degree in three years instead of four, much of this freedom gets lost, turning education into more of a long chore instead of the experience of a lifetime.
For further information on this standardization process, which is being implemented throughout Europe, I would suggest you research the Bologna Process. The Wikipedia article is informative but, as always, I would be wary of uncited “facts.”
I think this will be my last treatise comparing the educational systems in the USA and Germany but I may have a few interesting anecdotes to share now and then. Besides that, I’ll write about food in the two countries next week, because there are few other things that say more about a country’s culture in general than its attitudes towards food and eating.

Adam: Passing Not Running Up Bills

September 15, 2009

I’ve been in Norway for over a month! Or rather, I haven’t had Starbucks in over a month… Instead of talking about joining or not joining the European Union, Norwegian government needs to address the issue of not having my number one addiction anywhere in sight. I’m not saying they have to be on every corner, but one wouldn’t hurt.

Monday we visited the Norwegian Parliament for class. Since I geek out for anything that has to do with government, this was the best field seminar yet. We got a tour of both chambers of parliament and even got to sit in the chairs. Again, probably not that thrilling to the other ladies, but the photos taken of me show just how excited I was.

Also, we learned though the media Tuesday that we arrived at parliament right after a bit of a showdown between the leaders of three political parties. Honestly, we talked about it at the beginning of class, so I wasn’t really paying attention, but I guess a lady named Erna Solberg was peeved by something these two other bros did, and something, something, something…. This story sounded so much more interesting in my head, but that’s probably because I imagined it as a true rumble. I suggest you do the same.

Living in Sogn continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. Well, except for doing laundry. The washing machines are confusing and the dryers seem to do everything else, but dry your clothes. German friend Lisa and myself make dinner a lot, and by dinner I mean a lot of pasta with cream sauce. Obviously, this is a complete disaster and I need to start eating healthy Norwegian things, like veggies and fish. So that’s what I’m going to do. Tomorrow. Or the next day, I swear.

Time is flying by real fast and planning/anticipating various trips only seems to speed it up. In addition to Dublin, Copenhagen, and Stockholm, plans for Bergen and, as previously mentioned, Tromø are on the table. Traveling around Europe is obviously worth it, but the key is to find everything on the cheap. Ryan Air is a great go to for flights (it’s what Erika and I are taking to Ireland), although since they are so cheap, I’m picturing  tiny, shaky, explosion-prone planes.

I finally feel as though I’m figuring out how to stretch a buck here. What’s my secret? Being frugal. There’s a little convenience store that’s really close to class and has the most amazing warm, filling bread-thing filled with tuna and peppers for a mere 20kr. A steal, as the kids say. Although, and this goes back to eating like a garbage disposal, they’re probably not the healthiest thing in the world and it didn’t feel great when the worker who I see everyday knew what I wanted when I walked in the door.

Things feel familiar and comfortable and usually include eating and enjoying everything Oslo has to offer. I can’t complain.


Adam: “Now walk away. Strong and Frugal.”

August 25, 2009

The third week of my Norwegian adventure has officially begun.

I really enjoy studying abroad, except for the actual “studying” part. Although, much like at home, being in class keeps me from spending money. Especially the money I don’t have. I’m trying to be as frugal as possible. I hear Norway is really expensive… (Over the top eye roll)

Classes basically involves speaking from our perspective about Norway and the rest of the world. No sweat. There’s a lot of reading that we’re supposed to reference in class, but that’s easier said than done. We’re a very opinionated group, so it’s kind of like being on The View: Norwegian Edition. A real dream come true.

The best part of the educational portion of this trip is our “field seminars” which includes fascinating excursions into Oslo. We checked out the Nobel Peace Center for class Wednesday. After checking out a photography exhibit, we got a guided tour of the center. I thought 2007 recipient Al Gore might give the tour, but we had to settle for the Norwegian Diane von Fürstenberg. It was a very interesting tour and the highlight was the exhibit of Alfred Nobel, which featured a book that made windows frost/defrost and dynamite sounds. Sheer magic!

This weekend included a concert that many, many French kids said would be a real hoot. Note to self: French people reeeeeeeally like techno. Birdy Nam Nam is a group of four broskis who DJ their hearts out on their MacBook Pros. They also make me feel incredibly unhip, or un-French, as I kept wondering why their “phat beatz” had to be so loud.

Sunday was much more quiet and relaxing. Kirby and I met up with some Germans and checked out a festival which had a little flea market and cheap Chinese food. Definitely a highlight of the entire trip. We were super cool and had coffee outside of a cafe, walked outside in a beautiful garden, and almost went to the circus that was in town. They charged a lot for admission, so we had to pull ourselves away.

Punctuality is Norway’s middle name…. Or maybe its last name. Either way, it’s been difficult to not just saunter to the T-Bane stop at my leisure. Instead, I have to make sure I’m there to at the exact time the train pulls into the station. FYI: Oslo’s transportation system does not mess around. Being on time has been a chronic problem of mine, so hopefully this will cure my problem.

I start Norwegian class tomorrow, so I will hopefully be able to carry quasi-conversations with the various store clerks I come in contact with. The other day I replied “nei, takk” to an H&M worker who I thought was asking if I wanted a bag or not. Turns out she was telling me the total of my transaction. She quickly informed me that saying “no, thank you” to “you’re total is 100kr” is not acceptable.


Samantha: Day to Day

August 12, 2009

familyI have had almost all of my classes now and like them very much! Two are taught by instructors that specialize in Spanish as a second language. My writing class Professor explained to me that it is part of their culture to stare at people, so I have become accustomed to people looking at me. I am taking a Cognitive Psychology class, which I knew was going to be a challenge. I understand about 40% of what my professor says. After the first class I turned to the other exchange student in the class and asked her how much she understood. She is from Germany and Spanish is her third language and she only understood 10% so I think that together we should be able to comprehend 50% of the lectures!

My host sister, Javi, turned 18 on Friday. Eighteen in Chile is like turning 18 and 21 at the same time in the States so we had a huge party with a lot of food and almost the entire family. There was much laughing and conversation but Javi shares her birthday with her grandpa who passed away 6 years ago so there were some tears.

On Saturday I got a lesson in Texas Hold Em from my host Dad. I gave him a run for his money and at 2 a.m. after Brittany, a girl from Pennsylvania who was here for a summer program, and Aunt Tatty were somehow all in for the 10th time in a row after losing each time, I came in second to my host dad!!!

I have gotten to know the Nana, Marcela, who works for the family I am living with. She is a very sweet yet outspoken woman who has three sons and lives in Valparaiso. Brittany and I went to her house for lunch on Sunday. The outside was very rundown, and looked patched together, something that most people would turn away from, however the inside was very nicely decorated and had a very comfortable ambiance, similar to being at your mom’s house. The division of classes and treatment of the lower class in Chile is hard for me to live with each day, but it is their culture. In my free time I help Marcela cook and make sure she doesn’t have to clean up after me!

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