Saturday, June 21, 2008

While I'm at it, a Ketchup Post

I've actually been rather active during the past half year or so, so it's a pity that I haven't been writing any posts. I don't mean to say that the posts would have been (or are or will be) particularly interesting, but at least there have been things to report lately.

To begin with, I finally applied for my first job in December, and began working part-time in mid-January. I work for a catering company that provides nutritional, organic* food to schools and KITAs (day care). I am something like a cafeteria lady, except that the elementary school where I work doesn't have a cafeteria in the North American sense. That is, I don't serve students food directly onto their plates, nor is there a buffet from which students serve themselves. Instead, students sit at tables and serve themselves from normal-sized serving bowls or trays, much as they would at their own dinner table at home. I am responsible for gathering and counting out the necessary dishes and cutlery, setting the tables (if I have time), portioning food into serving bowls, bringing dirty dishes to the big kitchen, cleaning up after myself, and so on. I spend most of my time up on the third floor, in and around my little kitchen, but I also help out a bit in the big kitchen, for example by drying metal food containers or cutlery.

It is a good job, I think, and not only because I get to eat the food :o). My co-workers are friendly, to begin with, and I like the feeling that we are all in it together (so to say). When dealing with students or Erzieher**, I feel very much like an employee (though not necessarily in a bad way), but when interacting with my co-workers, I feel like an equal (undoubtedly pleasant). The children are generally charming, too (though they do have their inconsiderate, spoiled, unruly moments). They are eager to help out, to strike up a conversation, to show off costumes and paper noise-makers, and so on. As for the Erzieher (actually almost all are female, so Erzieherinnen), I am on good terms with them, but it is with them that I feel least comfortable and most like an employee. Still, it all makes for valuable (and much needed) social experience. It also gives me an opportunity to practice and improve my German.

. . . which brings me to another recent activity: my participation in two German courses at a Volkshochschule (something like a community college). The courses began in mid-February, and ended earlier this month. Both classes were small (at most eighteen students, not all of whom attended regularly), and each met once a week for three hours in the evening. Both courses had a grammatical component, but the first focussed more on the written language (and included weekly written assignments), while the second focussed on the spoken language (and included plenty of in-class discussions).

The other course participants (who come from countries like Mexico, Poland, Australia, Iran, Russia, and China) were warm and open, and had a certain humility and readiness to accept others that I think is characteristic of at least a certain kind of immigrant. Being a wimp, who finds many Germans rather too demanding and judgmental, I was very happy with my classmates.

The courses themselves weren't graded, nor was the homework. The idea, as far as I was concerned, was to fill in gaps in my grammar and to prepare me for the TestDaF (Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache, a German language proficiency test).

The TestDaF took place earlier this week, on Thursday. I signed up for it because I need proof of my deutsche Sprachkenntnisse*** for my university application. My sister signed up, too, so we took the test together. There were four parts: reading comprehension, oral comprehension, writing, and speaking. I'm reasonably sure that the first two parts went well (very well, even). As for the other two, I'll have to wait and see. As far as my writing is concerned, I'm mainly troubled by the fact that I was repetitive (as I often am), spoke in general terms (as I often do), and constructed awkward, confusing sentences. As for the speaking, . . . Well, I don't speak at all eloquently even in English. It wasn't that bad, though, despite (thanks to?) the fact that I was speaking into a tape recorder. Only one question went really badly. There were three parts to the question, but, due to a misunderstanding, I only addressed the first (and not very well). I have never been less pleasantly surprised by a beeping sound. :o)

The results will come in six to eight weeks -- a considerable wait, considering their importance. As I understand it, the only reason I wasn't accepted by the Freie Universität last year was because I didn't provide proof that I can understand and communicate in German at a university level. So, if my grade in all four areas of the TestDaF is satisfactory, I should be able to study Informatik, or information technology, at the Freie Universität in fall.

Actually, all of the above could and should have happened at least a year ago. There was really no reason to dread or delay anything, because things really weren't and aren't as difficult or disagreeable as I keep thinking they will be. Ah, well. I do find the two blank years after my withdrawal from UBC unfortunate (not to mention the withdrawal itself), but in the end I only mildly regret them. Such is life. More importantly, I am glad that I have some momentum now, and that it doesn't look like it will be disappearing any time soon.

Some fundamental problems are still ongoing, of course. As aforementioned, I am a wimp -- quick to procrastinate and quick to quit things that seem difficult. An example (as if more are needed):

Soon after I began my job, my uncle suggested that I apply for a program organized by the Steuerverwaltung (which manages or administrates taxes). Basically, I would get a three-year education as a civil servant. I would be paid a goodly amount every month, and would pretty much be guaranteed a position at the end of the three years. The training would also stand me in good stead should I wish to apply for any number of other jobs. Although the benefits of the program are clear, I was resistant from the start, and didn't really make an effort even when I began to warm up to the idea and see hope for success. As a result, I missed deadlines and ended up withdrawing my application.

The main obstacles apart from myself were the troublesome Prüfung der Hochschulzugangsberechtigung (proof that I am qualified to attend a post-secondary institution in Germany) and the even more troublesome Durchschnittsnote (my GPA). Both required sending of e-mails, gathering of information, gathering of documents, perhaps copying of documents, sending of documents, and so on. However straightforward these things may be to some, they are daunting and unpleasant to me. They will have to be done soon, though, and I'll be glad to have them out of the way.

Now, enough complaining. I've been wanting to post the following photo since late April, because of the graffiti, which I find amusing and quaint. Also, I keep expecting the original message -- "Zukunft schreibt man mit JA!"¹ -- to be something along the lines of "There is no I in team," but it doesn't work in this case; there is no "ja" in "Zukunft." Well, I can't deny that the "und Sie damit Geschichte"² part is a nice poetic touch. It works better in the original language, obviously, and sorry for the mediocre translations.

Future of Tempelhof Airport

The billboard was set up because of the referendum (Berlin's first referendum, incidentally) that took place in April. The question was whether Tempelhof should remain an active airport. At present, Berlin has three airports: Tegel, Tempelhof, and Schönefeld. Tegel is located to the northwest of Berlin. It was the airport for West Berlin, and is still the main international airport. Tempelhof is located in the middle of Berlin, relatively close to where I live, and is limited to small planes (mainly domestic or private flights, I think). Schönefeld is located to the southeast of Berlin. It was the airport for East Berlin, and it is to be greatly expanded in the coming years. It will become Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport, and, as such, is intended to replace Tegel and Tempelhof -- will replace them, in fact, since not enough people voted to save Tempelhof. Air traffic at Tempelhof will be discontinued (if it hasn't been already) and part of the grounds will be opened for development (e.g. parks and housing).

* The food, by the way, apart from being organic, doesn't contain any pork because many Muslim students don't eat it. On one of my first days of work, I was asked whether there was pork in the meatballs. Not thinking, I said that I didn't know, and that there might be. A few of the students rose in outrage, at which point I realized my mistake and hastily corrected myself.

** Erzieher are different from teachers (Lehrer) in that they are responsible for taking care of the children (e.g. between classes) and for guiding the children's social (rather than academic or intellectual) development.

*** Deutsche Sprachkenntnisse = knowledge of the German language. Being a lazy person, I find it troublesome to speak consistently in German or consistently in English. Although English words and phrases usually come more readily, there are some German words that have become very familiar, and that seem more convenient and fitting than their English counterparts.

¹ "One writes/spells future with YES!"
² "and with that [in writing YES], you write history"
Also, "dämliche CDU-Kampagne" means "silly/stupid CDU campaign" (where CDU is the Christian Democratic Union, a mainstream, rather conservative German political party)

Note: In our familyspeak, school days spent at home because of unfinished homework used to be called "ketchup days," despite the fact that actual catching up was rarely involved. Interestingly, my brothers, who were often absent in Canada (in some cases for weeks at a time), attend their classes regularly here, and (from what I gather) without complaint. Is it because they're older now? Do they like school better here? Perhaps Gnomey or Grimsly would be willing to write something on the subject (although I doubt they will).


At 11:42 a.m., June 21, 2008, Blogger Gnomey said...

I wonder whether anyone reads comments anymore? Well, here goes anyway: If you like I might put together a small post.

But since you asked, I complain less because the school is better, not because I am more mature. (My maturity hasn't moved on from its current position for four years and counting).


Post a Comment

<< Home