There are little monitors on the buses and trams around the city here in Graz. People can watch them while they’re on their way to work in the mornings, or on their way to go shopping in the afternoons. They usually display a mix of current events, random facts, and I’ve even seen suggestions for healthy snacks. Well earlier this week, when I was on my way to class, I looked up at the monitor and saw pictures of the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque! I was so excited that I looked around to tell someone, and then I remembered I was alone, and everyone was busy reading their books and browsing their phones. I tried to get a quick picture, but it changed too fast, and I never saw it come up again. It made my morning, though. I walked into class smiling 🙂
I finally started all my courses this week, which is a little bit strange considering the semester back in Albuquerque is almost halfway finished. At first, I was really stressed. Since the semester here ends at the beginning of February, and the one at UNM starts in the middle of January, I had to individually ask each professor if I could miss the last three weeks of classes and take the final exam early. I finally got it all sorted out, though. My professors all agreed to work with me to pass the classes and get the credits. All in all, I’m taking six courses:
- Austrian Society in International Comparison (in English)
- German Grammar Training
- 2 German Speaking Competency Courses
- A regular German Language class (reading, writing, listening, speaking)
- Chinese language class (Chinese 101 taught in English and German).
Each class here is worth half as many credits as in The States. So, a normal 3 credit class will only transfer back as 1.5 credits. It was just something I had to keep in mind while I was selecting courses because I had to make sure I had enough credits to maintain my scholarship.
“Austrian Society in International Comparison” is the only class I’m taking that’s taught entirely in English. I’m required (actually next week) to present on topic in sociology (mine is Social Stratification) and compare it between Austria and the US. The students from Austria get to pick a country of their choice to compare Austria to, and the exchange students have to compare Austria with their home country. I’ve only had the class twice, and I’ve already learned a lot about Austria. Something I found really interesting was that there is no separation of church and state in Austria, That means crosses can be found in classrooms in public school classrooms and even universities. They can only be taken down if someone in the class requests it and the majority of the class votes in favor of having it removed as well. Anyway, the professor is really nice and knowledgable, and I think it’s going to be a fun and interesting class.
I originally only had 14 US credits, and while I was looking for one class to push me up to 15, I saw that there were many different language courses offered each worth 3 ECTS, or about 1.5 US credits. They have everything from French to Russian to Hungarian, but I was really interested in taking Chinese. At first, I was nervous because the class was supposed to be taught in German, and I thought 2 foreign languages at the same time would be a little difficult. It turns out, though, that the teacher can’t really speak German so she mainly uses English. Also, even though the textbook is in German, it’s really easy to understand. Since the chapters we read are explaining very simple Chinese, the German is very simple as well.
After two weeks of learning, I can draw 16 Chinese characters now! Learning Chinese is so different than learning other languages; it feels like a music class and an art class combined. During class, we practice pronouncing the different tones. I feel like I’m singing sometimes, because we all have to match the teacher. At home, I practice drawing the characters, and it feels like I’m sketching little pictures. I write each character over and over until I get it down. It doesn’t really feel like studying either, because I can listen to music and zone out, but still be learning at the same time. Here are the 16 characters I can write so far!
Then there are my four German language courses. So far, I really like all of them because they’re very interactive, and my classmates are from all over the world just like in my pre-semester German course. The classes are all pretty demanding. The requirements are essays, presentations, exams, homework assignments, regular participation, and attendance, but I find it quite fun. I really enjoy that the classes are all entirely in German, and that I am forced to communicate with my classmates in German. In my normal every day life in Graz, I always have the crutch of English as an option. If I need something, and I’m struggling in German, I know I can always try English. In class though, we are still required to speak German, even though everyone knows how to speak English. It’s also really helpful that the teacher only speaks in German with us. She defines words we don’t know in German and she explains things we don’t understand in German. I feel like that’s the most helpful way to learn a language, because it can be really confusing to be constantly translating from English to German all the time. I’m really excited to see how much I learn throughout the semester.
It’s nice having classes that are so different than all the Chemistry and Biology classes I’m used to taking. It’s a breath of fresh air being around people who are all pursuing such different degree and career paths. Since I’m pre-med, I’ve been around mostly pre-med students for the past three years. We all take the same classes and have the same goal. It’s a nice change to meet people who are studying things like teaching, music education, art, translation, and history. Every person I meet is so different. They come from a different country, they speak a different language, they study a different subject, and it’s such an enriching experience to interact with all of them. Meeting all those different people is my favorite thing about being abroad.
Another good thing is since the classes are worth less credits, they only meet once a week for an hour and a half. I also got lucky, and all of my classes meet on Tuesday-Thursday, so I have four day weekends every weekend! For the past three years, I’ve had classes Monday-Friday and I even had training for my job Friday afternoons until 5 pm. I took 15-18 credits every semester and I worked 12 hours a week, so it’s nice to slow down a little. I’m excited that I’ll have a little more time this semester, and I hope to take advantage of that as best as I can.
After having the first day of classes this week, I also had a really fun weekend. I played Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit In GERMAN ( German, Harry Potter, and Trivia are some of my favorite things!!), I went to a silent disco party event, I went biking, I cooked a couple times, and I went on a nice little hike with some really great people. Which leads me to the last thing I want to say this week.
Before I got here, I signed up for the “Buddy Program,” which matches each international student with a local Austrian Student based on a couple of questions they ask you. That’s me in the middle, and my Buddy Elli to the right of me. I really couldn’t have possibly asked for a better buddy. She has been so helpful and supportive, and I really love hanging out with her. We went on the hike with her boyfriend (far right), her sister (far left), and their friend (on my left). It was a beautiful hike, and I’m really thankful for the great company I had.
And that’s it for this week! Thank you for reading 🙂
Here’s a picture of silent disco. It was pretty much just a big party but there was no music playing. Instead, they give you headphones, and you can chose between two different channels. I actually liked that part because if I didn’t like a song, I could just change it to the other channel. Also, if you take the headphones off, you can hear everyone singing two different songs really loudly and out of tune. It was pretty funny 🙂
More pictures from the hike: