Tag Archives: education

Vienna: Days 4 and 5

18 Aug

The past few days I have been in the school for the morning and in the afternoon explored the city a bit.

Although the themes in the class haven’t been anything more advanced a few topics have come up that I needed some extra practice on anyway.

In one of the classes someone asked if we come watch the German film Die Welle (The Wave). I had never heard of the film before but it was based on a real experiment that happened at an American school. The basic premise is that a teacher tries to prove to the students that, despite all the lessons that we think we have learnt about fascism, there is still a real danger that a dictatorship could once again happen in the western world.

Of course, the students all think that this couldn’t possibly happen but before they know it they are beginning to give the teacher (who assumes the role of the Dictator) the status of an idol and do whatever he says without questioning him. It soon turns into destruction and death.

Apparently the real experiment happened over 3 or 4 months and not a week like the film depicts and there was a bit of destruction but no death.

It’s an interesting topic to think about anyway but perhaps more so when I think about our friends over the Atlantic and the similarities that have been drawn between Trump and other famous dictators.

There is also a book of the same name which I will try to read in German, even though I much prefer to read the book before the film.

On Thursday afternoon we walked around the city. The city isn’t so big and it’s easy to work out all the different routes and shortcuts. I’m still really impressed with how beautiful the city is. The building are so elegant and the white marble against the backdrop of an electric blue sky with no clouds makes it even more impressive-looking.

The heat in the city is incredible at the moment and it was uncomfortable to walk around so much so we came back to the apartment to read and try to cool down. In the evening we ran to Schloss Schönbrunn again. We went a bit further than on Tuesday and it felt a lot better as well.

On Friday we had lunch at the apartment and walked to Schloss Schönbrunn. When we have run there, the grounds were already closed so we couldn’t have a look round.

The grounds surrounding the building are huge and it must take a lot of people a lot of time to keep the grounds looking so nice. It was a nice afternoon so lots of people and children were milling about.

In the picture you can see Schloss Schönbrunn and the surrounding area. Wandering around the grounds you would never realise that you were so near to a large city. You can barely hear any traffic noise. You could be anywhere.

The temperature is still in the 30s so it will be a hot evening tonight. Lucky (and only a Brit could say this) tomorrow it will rain! Yes! It needs to cool down a bit, especially as I have promised to go for a 10k run with my training partner/boyfriend tomorrow.

Vienna, Day 1

14 Aug

When the alarm went off this morning, it was time to go back to school. The school is about 30 minutes away from where I am staying so I wanted to be there a bit earlier in case there were any delays. One of the problems of living in Switzerland is that you get used to everything running perfectly on time. So when you go somewhere else it is a bit of a shock when the train does not arrive at 12.32 exactly.

The school was easy enough to find. I bought a weekly ticket for the transport which is just over 16 EUR, which is pretty good value for money.

When the school said that we should be there early to have a speaking assessment, I thought that there would be able 6 to 10 of us lined up waiting. It turns out there was about 60 or more. It was crammed with people. After filling out a form (even though I had already done this at least twice for the school), I had an oral test to find out which level my German was. This was in addition to a 60 minute test I had already submitted online. I realised that this exercise was largely pointless because they had already divided students into groups.

As happened in Munich, I don’t think that I was put into the right group for my ability and level. I was willing to stick it out for a day and see how it went. The first hour and a half was a lesson focusing on grammar. I had already done the exercises to death but I did learn a few things and one or two things were a lot clearer. It was clear that some of the other students were less confident in their abilities. I really am not the most confident of people when it comes to my German ability but I can at least read something out loud with a certain degree of confidence. I have worked hard at this over the past months in my lessons in Switzerland.

The second one and a half hours was with a more motivated teacher and the focus was on conversation. The whole lesson was spent talking about emotions and different words to describe them. This was really useful. I have a huge list of new words to use and it was a good way to increase my vocabulary.

As I had joined for an intensive course, I then had a small break before another one and a half hours with another teacher. I thought that this hour and a half would be another lesson with a structure of what we were going to study. It turns out that it is more of a lesson to recap what we have done in the morning and we were expected to come with topics that we were not sure about. In fairness, I can do this on my own in my own time, rather than paying for it. It was nice to meet with other people and be able to practice speaking a bit but overall I didn’t really think it was worth it.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed. The exercises were not as challenging as I wanted or need. I have decided to go to the school and air my views and ask if I can be moved to another group. It doesn’t make sense if I don’t learn as much as I could and these two weeks are holiday time that I have taken off work. I need to make sure that my time and learning is maximised. And I love complaining in any language. Let’s see what happens.

By the time I had finished school it was already 2pm. I came home, went shopping and then made my way to the train station to pick up my boyfriend who was arriving to come and stay for a week. With him being here I definitely feel as though I am on an intensive German course. I think I have only said five sentences in English today. At this rate I might start forgetting how to speak English.

A slight sense of impending doom 

28 Jun

Slowly, but surely, I am starting to feel a sense of dread; a terrifying sense that I have brought something upon myself and now I have to pay for it. I’m talking about my German exam which I will be taking in less than 11 days.

It seems like a strange comparison but it feels a bit like booking a holiday, quite far in advance, and all of a sudden it’s here and you think “Oh, that’s come round quickly!” 

Of course, this is all my fault because I signed up for the exam free willingly. The one reason I wanted to do it was to prove to myself that I am learning and getting better and that my time and money has not been a complete waste.

I’m always nervous before exams, even though I am normally more prepared than the person marking the paper. My worst fear on language exams is the spoken part. On all the other parts (writing, reading, listening) if you don’t know the answer, you can come back to it later or have a guess and no one can see the utter confusion etched on your face. 

Speaking is another matter. With speaking you have to answer immediately and the other person knows if you are making it up or you are not feeling great about what you are saying, just from looking at you. Unfortunately for me, this is how spoken language works. 

In my last exam, I was paired with a man from Spain and his accent was so thick that I really struggled to understand what he was saying. If this happens this time, I am just going to say that I don’t understand and can they repeat it because I can’t handle the stress of guessing what has been said. Thinking about it, maybe it will help me score brownie points from the examiners because they might not be able to understand them either!

From now until the exam, my life is a boring, never-ending cycle of listening to German, reading German, learning German working and practicing test German exams. My brain feeling like it is cooking.

I sound very conscientious but it’s not the whole truth. In actual fact, I have begun to find different activities to occupy myself with and ultimately help me to procrastinate! The bathrooms have never been so clean, the garden is looking very trim and tidy and my jars in the kitchen which keep flour, sugar, rice etc have all been neatly rearranged and filled to an optimal level. It could well be that the house is in a lot better state than my “German” mind by the time of the exam.

In positive news, I have started to write emails in German at work (sometimes of very technical topics) and everyone I sent them to has been very complimentary about my German grammar and language skills. 

Now if the exam could just contain a question about writing an email to a colleague about hedge funds, that would be just great!

A Norwegian Getaway

2 Apr

After having the first BBQ of the season on Thursday evening, I was ready for holidaying to start. On the Friday, I jetted off early to Oslo in the hope that the weather forecasts were completely wrong. Up above the clouds and seeing the sun, I was thinking that the weather was going to be a lot better than predicted. My hopes were shattered when we descended under the clouds and I could see a coating of snow on the ground! I was glad my gut instinct of bring layers and hat and gloves had been correct.

The train from the airport to the City centre was quick and I had arrived by 10am. Although there was no snow in the city, it was foggy and grey but at least not the rain that was forecast. As the weather was not great and I had bought the Oslo Pass which includes entrance into 30 museums, I decided to be a culture vulture.

After a wander round to get my bearings, the first stop was the Nobel Peace Centre. Last year I went to the Nobel Centre in Stockholm, Sweden so I thought it would be nice to see the exhibition about the Peace Prize. The museum itself was quite small and, in my opinion, not as good as the museum in Stockholm. The main display was an exhibition of all the winners of the prize on iPads. When you walk up past the iPads, it activates the screens and gives more information about the prize winner. It took me a while to realise that when a screen is activated a musical note plays, so that when there are more people in the room looking at parts of the installation it produces a, well, for want of a better word, a peaceful atmosphere.

I moved next to the Munch museum (which is apparently is pronounced “Monk”). I was expecting to see The Scream, which seems like a reasonable assumption but it wasn’t there. In fact, the museum doesn’t have a permanent exhibition. The paintings are changed regularly so it could happened that it’s hit or miss what you see. I personally wasn’t a fan of what I saw.

The Natural History Museum was the next stop and I came face to face with a T-rex. I had no idea that the museum had a T-rex so it was a nice surprise. I always found Natural History Museums a bit macabre as a child and I guess I still do. But the stuff about dinosaurs and fossils are pretty cool.

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I had already booked a Fjord cruise but by the time I left the museums, it was rain. The weather forecast was right. It was bucketing it down. The boat had no sides and the only roof was a canvas. Luckily there were blankets provided but it didn’t do too much to keep me warm. My idea of what a cruise on the Fjords would be like was not what I expected. Because of the foggy and the mist, there wasn’t anything to see. It was just grey. The only way I can describe it is that if Manchester was on the sea and they put on cruises it would be exactly like that: Raining, cold and grey. I can imagine that in the summer when you can see all the islands with their greenery, with the sun beating down that it has a certain majesty about it. By the time, I disembarked I wasn’t able to feel my feet. I was glad to go for something to eat to warm up.

The weather on Saturday was unfortunately much the same. So, it was time for more museums. On the Fjord cruise an American family had told me that they had been to the Fram museum and highly recommended it. I headed there first. The Fram museum houses the Fram, a boat that was used in Polar exploration. There was lots of information about the race to get to the North Pole between Scott and Amundsen, who was Norwegian. It was even possible to board the Fram and go into all the cabins and see how the ships worked. I have no idea how it must have been to go into the unchartered territory with limited provisions, nevermind having to cope with the cold all those years ago without the technology that we have today.

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Next to the Fram museum are also the National Maritime Museum and the Kon-tiki Museum. I’m not all that interested in martime history and I only really went because it was free. I am sure that it would be really interesting if boats through the ages was your thing. The Kon-tiki musuem was dedicated to the work of Thor Heyerdahl who in 1947 made an expedition from South America to French Polynesia because he wanted to prove that the people of Polynesia had a link to Peruvians. To prove it, he took 5 other friends on a raft, called Kon-tiki made out of wood across 4,000 miles of ocean. The original vessel that they sailed on was in the museum. It’s an incredible story – not least when Heyerdahl not only had a fear of water and wasn’t able to swim. One of his most famous quotes is: “Borders? I have never seen one, but I have heard they exist in the minds of some people” Perhaps if more people had this view of life that there would be less conflict in the world.

Next I headed to The National Gallery because, after a bit of research, I had found out that this was where The Scream was kept. It’s quite bizarre that it is just housed in a normal room with no additional security when it had been stolen about 3 times in the past. It was a surprise just to come across it in one of the side rooms. I only realised it must be there because so many people were sitting looking at it.

After a small stop for lunch, I went to the Ibsen museum. I had heard of Ibsen before and I could name a few of his works but after visiting the museum, which is on the site of where he last lived, I will make a conserted effort to read some of the things he has written. It seems like a man who was ahead of his time, writing about women’s role in society, for example. Some of the details of his private life are not so pleasant but that doesn’t stop his plays from being good.

There was just enough time to look around the Akershus Castle and to go to the Opera House where I was treated to an incredible sunset over the city (by now, the weather was improving and I even saw some blue sky). It is possible to climb up to the roof of the Opera House and the view from the top is something to behold.

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Overall, I really enjoyed my time in Norway. The weather was the major disappointment. It meant the weekend was more of a damp than I was hoping but I made the most of it.

Next weekend I am back in the UK to go to the Grand National for the first time. The weather can’t be as bad as the weekend in Norway, can it?

 

Disaster and two murders in a weekend!

5 Feb

Disaster might be a bit of a strong word but bad things have happened this weekend. The Wifi modem has broken and since Thursday evening there has been no internet connection at home.

I am not the sort of person who can’t go without the internet. In fact, not having the Internet  when I travel is one of the reasons that I like to travel so much. I normally only have the internet when I am at a hotel or restaurant and I can get a connection. I never pay for data roaming; partly because I don’t want to age 10 years when I finally get the bill and I realise how much data I have actually downloaded. I find pleasure in not being 100% contactable during time away and also not worrying why someone hasn’t replied to one of my messages.

It was a bit annoying that it had to happen this weekend. I had nothing planned this weekend, except a two phone calls via FaceTime with a friend and with my mum but now with no Wifi and a weak signal on my phone, that is not possible. I was looking forward as well.

fax-1904656__340Also, I had planned to spend some time this weekend on the internet researching some thing to do on my holiday in April. The weather is so cold and grey that a bit of research and thinking about holiday in a few months time was going to be momentary release from the drudgery of February. It seems like it was not to be.

Instead I have managed to do quite bit of reading. I have finally finished the second ever German book I have read. I am feeling a little smug again. This book was harder to read than The Reader because there isn’t a film that the book is based on that I have already seen. The book was a sort of crime thriller. A man is found dead and a private detective is hired to find out what happened. The book is called Happy Birthday, Türke by Jakob Arjouni, if you are interested. I also finished an English book that I only started on Wednesday evening. Because the Wifi broke on Thursday and the TV was also not working so well, I managed to get through a lot of it before the weekend even started. Coincidently, this book was also about a private detective. And, thinking about it, the book does start with the death of a man at the beginning. They weren’t the same book though. I am pretty sure that my German is not so bad that I wouldn’t have noticed.

If you are wondering how I am writing this without Internet, I am actually writing it on my phone. It isn’t the same as typing on the computer. I have fat figure syndrome and I keep hitting the wrong keys on my phone. It is taking me a lot longer than it would do normally. It’s frustrating. But hopefully a new modem will arrive tomorrow and normal service will be resumed. If not, I did visit a book shop yesterday with the intention of “just having a look”, but I came out of the shop ten minutes later with a bagful of books, so I should be able to keep myself entertained for a few days more at least.

Operation Full Immersion: Day 6

20 Jan

Waking up to -14 degrees this morning was not at all the sort of welcome anyone needs on a Friday but that is life. It certainly didn’t help me in the preparation for my last lesson. By the time I arrived at the language school, my brain was half frozen.

It is surprising how quickly a 90 minute lesson flies by. By the time you have looked at a few grammar exercises and done a bit of chit chat, it is almost time to pack up. It is a lot easier to remember things if they are presented to you in a unique way. That definitely happened today.

We started talking about idioms. Sentences or phrases that are not meant literally but convey another meaning entirely. In English, you might say “to pull the wool over someone’s eyes” which means that you are deceiving someone by not letting them see the truth and not that someone is pulling your knitted hat down over your face. There are similar phrases in German. We were talking about the phrase: Das Geld zum Fenster hinauswerfen. This means to through money out of the window or to waste money. I understood what the phrase meant but just to make sure the teacher took 10 Euros out of her purse, opened the window and proceeded to thrown it out onto the street below. I had no idea what to say or do. She just turned to me and laughed and said “Someone will be happy to find that later”.

When we moved on to the phrase Die Kuh vom Eis holen which literally means to pick the cow up from the ice and actually means to solve a hard problem, I was worried that she would produce a cow from her handbag à la Mary Poppins style and take it down to the icy street below and try to pick it up.

Needless to say, these two phrases will stay in my head for a long while to come. No revision or further explanation necessary.

As my lesson finished at 10am, I had the rest of the day free. I decided to visit the Dachau concentration camp which is located just outside Munich. After the Third Reich tour from yesterday, it made sense to round off the important sites in the surroundings that are associated with this topic. I was having second thoughts about going but , it is important to understand all parts of history and not just the nice parts.

I arrived by train. What struck me initially was that Dachau itself is a lovely little town. If you didn’t know that there was a former Nazi concentration camp in the vicinity, you would have no idea about the atrocities that occurred there. I wonder what it is like for people who live there, when they tell someone where they come from? For German people, the name is familiar and everyone knows what happened there. I wonder if it feels like there is a dark cloud hanging above them.

The Memorial site itself is completely free to enter and there is an insightful museum and you can roam the grounds and explore. Dachau was the first concentration camp that was built. It was the model for all the other camps, of which there were thousands. Apparently the gas chambers in Dachau were never used for mass extermination as they were in other camps, although no one can explain the reason why.

I found the place to be a very restful and peaceful place, which was probably helped by the cold weather and so few people visiting the site. I am still finding it hard to reconcile the horrific images and decriptions about the conditions and how life was for a political prisoner with the serene, contemplative atmosphere of the place that looked beautiful in the snow and the afternoon sunlight.thumbnail_img_4510

I found out on this trip that it is compulsory for German high schoool children to spend a year learning about what happened in this point in history and they also visit concentration camps as part of their education. I always thought that they learnt very little in comparison to what we learn in the UK. Although I can understand the reasons for this, I can’t help but think that Germans are somehow punished for the mistakes of previous generations. For sure, Brits are no angels either and the British Empire was also a place, where, I imagine, man’s inhumanity to man and explotation of people reared its ugly head. But I know next to nothing about it because it is not something that we are taught or are proud of.

Feeling pensive and slightly depressed with the world again, I head back to the city. I had heard that the Chinese Tower in the English Beer Garden was covered in snow. It sounded like a great photo opportunity. img_4517The English Garden area is relatively big and I can imagine in summer it is packed with picnic-ers and beer drinkers. Unfortunately, when I visited it was cold and covered in snow and the normal food and drink stalls were all shut up for the winter break. I would like to come back in the summer and see what this garden is like then: BBQs, people playing football, sunbathing and enjoying being outside. There is even a part of the river with a man-made waves and you can surf on the river. In the meantime, I saw the Chinese Tower looking glorious in the sunshine. That will have to do for now.