One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad was to study a foreign language. Since I already had some prior knowledge of German, I decided it would be best to go to a Germany speaking country. I narrowed it down to Germany and Austria. Having already visited Germany on a couple of different occasions and looking for somewhere new, I ended up choosing Austria.
And so now for a little back story, I took German for four years in high school. With all the distractions that come with being a teenager and the pressures of standardized testing and gaining college admission, I never prioritized learning German as much as I did just getting a good grade in the class. The best thing I did, though, was stick with it for four years. After being in the classroom for 3-4 hours every week for 8 semesters with an amazing teacher, I now realize that I learned a lot more than I thought I did. Since then, I’ve taken one German course at UNM, and I attended the German Summer School of New Mexico, an intensive German program where I took fast-paced upper-division German language courses and seminars.
When I got to Graz, I had to take a German language placement test to make sure I was in the correct course level. The test consisted of two parts—a written and an oral. The written test starts out really easy and gets progressively more difficult, and you pretty much just try to get as far as you can ( you have to get 80% correct to go on to the next section), and the oral section is a very casual interview and discussion with a partner. It wasn’t bad at all. They sent us an email later that evening on what course we had been placed in, and the next morning was the first day of class!
At this point, I had already made a few friends that I was spending most of my time with, but on the first day of class I was put in a room filled with brand new faces. A lot of the friends I had made thus far had been native English speakers from the US, Canada, or Australia, but in this new group of almost 30 students there was only one other native English speaker. The rest came from Spain, Italy, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, France, China, Hungary, and those are just the places I can remember.
On a typical day this month, I catch bus number 63 at 8:40 am from the station near my dorm, Hauptbahnhof, that takes me right in front of the classroom to the stop Nibelungengasse by 8:56 am. The class is 3 hours and 15 minutes every day Monday-Friday, and we have one 15 minute break at around 10:30. The teacher is native Austrian, and up to this point I haven’t heard her speak a word of English. When we don’t understand something, she never translates, she just explains in German. I think a big part of it is that most people’s mother tongue isn’t English, so translating to English would maybe just make it more difficult? Most people do speak English, though, and are very good at it. I noticed, though, that a lot of people in that class actually speak German better than English. I realized that when we broke up into small groups and one of the students was explaining a term that the rest of us didn’t know in German. “You can just say it in English,” I told her in German, and she replied, “I don’t know how.”
So that’s been the most interesting part for me. I’ve had a lot of different German teachers, but my classmates have all been American in the past. When you have the same mother tongue, it’s easy to understand each other when you say something wrong in German because you know what the other “meant to say.” If the mother tongue is different, though, it’s more difficult. I feel like it’s really challenging me and I’m learning a lot just from this past week. We have already had an essay due and I have a test next week, Midterm the week after that, and then a Final exam on the following week. I guess that’s they mean when they say “intensive course.”
Other than that, I’ve been trying to get my courses figured out for registration at the end of the month (in New Mexico I register 4 months before the semester starts but here they register just a few days before the first day of classes). The system is also different because you don’t get in the class based on who can click “register” the fastest at a certain time. There is a complicated algorithm that takes into account your major, what year you are, how badly you need the course for your degree, etc., that determines who gets in to what course. Thankfully, 10% of each course is reserved for international students.
I’m still trying to find a cheap bike because it seems like biking is a lot more convenient than using public transportation. They also have bike lanes on almost every road, so I’m not scared of being hit by a car like I am in a lot of places in Albuquerque. I go to the grocery store very often because things actually go bad here (makes me wonder what they put on those apples in the US that makes them last for literally months). My favorite part about the grocery store is this cool orange juicer machine that will juice you ONE LITER of orange juice for about 5 euros (In the US one small cup of fresh squeezed orange juice costs about that much). The eggs are also so fresh that I saw feathers in one of the boxes. When I crack them they have this brilliant orange colored yolk that is a lot more appealing than the dull yellow color of the yolk back home.
On a side note, the pizza here is not that good so I don’t recommend that, HOWEVER the pumpkin is amazing! Styria (the state that Graz is in) is famous for its pumpkin seed oil, which they put on everything and tastes amazing. I went to a Styrian restaurant the other day and had pumpkin lasagna and pumpkin soup which also tasted WAY better than they look in these pictures. I had Styrian style schnitzel which is schnitzel breaded in pumpkin seeds (also amazing), and my favorite drink here is Almdudler which is a herb soda that tastes unlike anything I’ve ever had, so I can’t really describe it. I think you can order it online though if you want to look it up.
Life here is a lot more laid back. The streets and shops are packed even during the working day, and they have various events going on at all times. This week, they had a city reading week in the main plaza in front of the City hall. They had water proof beanbags set up and bookcases of books that you could borrow and just lay down and read. It was really nice.
Well that’s it for this week. If you made it all the way through, thank you for sharing my experiences with me, and see you soon 🙂