Monthly Archives: April 2014

Experiential Learning

You know, my understanding of the whole “experiential learning requirement” is that it’s supposed to be about learning about life in some way.  You can get it from doing an internship.  You can doing it from studying abroad.  You take the experience you learn from doing something in the, “real world,” and apply it to your life in some way that you couldn’t see from just going to class.  But I kind of think the whole institution is a joke.  We’re all going to learn about the world in our own time.  There’s no reason to require us to take some stupid class, or work for some asshole, or go to some random country, just to get it done.

I think my girlfriend is going to dump me.  And I must be honest, the terms of this blog requirement are rather vague.  I have to talk about whatever I experience here.  Well, I’m experiencing that the girl I’ve been dating since before she left for Ireland is about 2 weeks from leaving Ireland, and wants to leave me.  We made it over the gap.  We both made it to Europe, and were happy until last week.  And I didn’t do anything wrong.  She’s just found time for everyone else other than me.  What else can that mean?

Experiential learning…  That’s a little redundant, isn’t it?  Isn’t ALL learning experiential?  I mean unless you’re still deluded enough to believe that “rationalism” is the real, functioning, way that the human brain works, you’ll realize all learning is empirical.  So why make it required?  Tabula Rasa.  I mean Jesus, John Locke figured it out about almost 400 years ago, why are people still contriving to find it otherwise?  And it’s not even though he was the first to think of the human mind that way.

The liberal arts education is a joke.  Why did I even go to UMW?  Well, because it was either Rutgers University, or TCNJ, both of which were essentially high school round 2, and I really wasn’t about that life.  Plus, I hate meeting people.  I really do.  I find it absolutely abhorrent.  That’s what I’ve hated most being here.  I got into both Rutger’s and TCNJ, by the way.

They say a liberal arts education prepares you for life.  I think that’s false.  I think most people would agree that’s false.  What prepares you for life, is life.  Not learning about how Amoeba reproduce, or about how Hegel was far more of a deist than a Christian, despite what many older interpretations may consider him, or how Stephen Crane was a naturalist, not a realist, a slight, but important distinction.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

-Stephen Crane

I’ve always been an absurdist.  Albert Camus started the tradition, in case you didn’t know.  It’s the belief that ultimately, life is absurd, in that any attempts for human knowledge to attempt to make sense of it will ultimately fail, since we do not have the capacity to understand life on a fundamental level.  If there is a point to life, we’ll never know for sure, so why care?  That’s what I believe.  And I’m proud, that even if I’m wrong, I promise you right here and now, that I didn’t even look up that definition as I wrote it.  Even if I’m wrong, that’s what I believe.  But I digress.  As Camus said, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”  The rock drops from all our hands at some point.  I’d imagine Stephen Crane would find that philosophy rather enticing, even if he didn’t believe it entirely.  Naturalism is hardly a stones throw from absurdism.  One’s more of a nihilism, and one’s a sort of existentialism.  All that really differs is the meaning to life.  I guess that’s a big one, though.

Bob died recently.  He was my friend.  A good friend.  I won’t pretend we were the best of friends, but he always was able to make me happy, and I always looked forward to his company.  That’s a rare quality, in anyone, really.  And I say that sincerely.  I feel like people say stuff like that because someone’s dead and they feel they should, but Bob really was one of the best men I knew.  He was smart.  I was in One Note with him.  It’s funny, I remember Ian once called him, “The Sage of One Note.”  He was nice.  I never ever was angry at him.  Everyone knows how easily they’re offended.  To never offend me, someone that’s easier to offend than a damn bear, is a damn accomplishment.  I’m sad he’s gone.  I was supposed to live in his apartment next year, after he graduated in the spring.  I don’t want to anymore.  I’m not a superstitious man, but I don’t want to live in a place where your friend has died.  Everyone lost a lot when Bob passed.  He was one of the few people that truly deserved to be remembered, even if he didn’t DO anything to be remembered by.  He was just a kind soul that made everyone happy.  That has always been a rare quality.

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones lately.  As such, I feel as though I’ve gained a bit of a penchant for being dramatic.  But this is what experiential learning means to me: it means going to a country to learn a language you don’t speak, to have your girlfriend dump you, and your friend die, and come back alive, and eventually find the courage to be happy just the same.

I’m past the point of “culture shock.”  I know I’m not unhappy because of GERMANY.  But my life has gone to Hell in a hand basket since I’ve been here.  Well, Jesus.  This is a BLOG about LIFE.  Professor Rotter, if you truly find my post offensive, I will deter from doing anything like this in the future.  All you need do is let me know.  But I haven’t been this unhappy since my grandmother died my Junior year.  Granted, I’m a kid of no small privilege.  But still.

So I ask you: what is the point of an experiential learning requirement if you don’t talk about your EXPERIENCES?  And forgive me, I’m hardly being sarcastic at you, but more the whole institution.  This has been on my mind the past few days.  It’s been eating away at me.  I have to say something.  I hope you understand.

My friend told me this once: everyone is the center of their own Universe.  Ain’t it the truth, though?

 

Money

It has been a while.  I’ve been out and about getting to know people, seeing things, and just overall getting acclimated.  But one of the things I didn’t realize was how damn expensive it is here.  You pay more money for less food.  I recently went to a Bavarian style restaurant and I had to pay 16 Euro for my dish.  It was just some Schnitzel and fries, but still, that’s roughly a 22 dollar meal, and I can tell you right now, I wasn’t exactly full.

And travel isn’t exactly cheap, either.  I can take the Greyhound from NJ to Fredericksburg and back for a round trip ticket of about $60.  That’s a five hour bus ride.  But here, the two and a half hour train ride just to get to Erfurt from Frankfurt was 56 Euro.  And that was one way…  The only saving grace of transportation here is that we have free access to the trams, but that came at the cost of around 195 Euro for our semester contribution.  If schooling is free here in Germany, then why am I required to pay that much for a piece of paper with my name on it saying I’m studying at the University?  I’m not saying it’s unfair, it’s just counter intuitive almost.

It’s hard to make friends unless you’re spending money, too.  You have to go out and meet people at pubs and things of the sort.  So far that hasn’t been too many, “let’s just hang out in each others rooms” hangouts yet.  Maybe that’ll change with time.  For my financial stability, I certainly hope that it does.

At this rate, I’ll bankrupt my parents in a matter of weeks.  It’s so strange that everything at UMW is covered in tuition and housing costs.  You get a meal plan and you get to eat so many meals and even though the food isn’t great, at least you won’t get hungry.  You pay for your apartment for the semester that you are going to be there.  Here, you pay everything at a monthly rate, and it’s rather inconvenient, to say the least.  All of this clerical stuff isn’t exactly fun.  80 Euro per month for German health insurance.  200 Euro a month for my apartment.  You have to pay for your “semester contribution” just to have a student ID.  I just feel like there is a better way to get all of this stuff done as opposed to make a million little appointments on a monthly basis.

Because at least if you pay for all of this stuff at once, in a huge lump sum of money, it may be a lot, but you don’t have to worry about it for later.  Your finances are what it costs for you to do whatever it is that you want other than eat, or live in your apartment.  I will say, even if I hate it, I do appreciate how actually living on your own is now.

I have to plan out everything.  I should have been the entire time, but I just recently took a look at my bank statement, and it is not a very large number.  And I guess in a way, that’s a good thing.  It’s teaching me responsibility.  But I can’t say I enjoy having to estimate my monthly costs on Schnitzel and ground beef alone.  It’s quite a bore having to see if I have enough money to buy another beer, or what have you.  It’s definitely not fun having to take out 200 Euro once a month and give it to someone just so you can live in your apartment.  It’s rather sad.  Well, maybe sad isn’t the right word.  But I don’t know the right word.

 

Capitalism in Germany

Now, right off the bat, I want to make it clear that this post will be for the most part void of any subjective statements about Capitalism, but more an observation of how it manifests itself here in Germany.  But here’s the thing…  MORE STORES NEED TO BE OPEN ON SUNDAY IN THIS COUNTRY.  It was ridiculous, I went to Anger hoping to peruse some stores and maybe make some purchases for things that I needed in my apartment, and next to nothing was open!  I mean Jesus, most of Germany identifies as Atheist, so why is it they adhere so strictly to Blue laws and traditions?  Maybe I’m just from suburban New Jersey, where the earliest most things close on Sunday is 9 PM, but still.

And it’s not even that stores aren’t open on Sunday, it’s that they close SO EARLY EVERY OTHER DAY OF THE WEEK.  I went to Anger literally yesterday to get some groceries and by the time I got there it was 8:02 and they were closing the grocery stores in the basement of the mall.  Most stores are open on SUNDAY in the US longer than stores in Germany on weekdays.  It’s just so strange to me not having such an available access to what I want, when I want it.

But additionally, the only things that ARE open late tend to be American companies.  Burger King is a pretty consistent theme here, but for instance, whenever I walk around late at night through Anger, Burger King is the place that is ALWAYS open.  An American company is the one that defies all traditions, be it closing at 8, or closing on Sundays.  I just looked it up right now, and the Burger King in Anger is open from 10AM-2AM on Sundays.  That’s an infinitely many percent increase in time availability on Sundays compared to just about every single other store in the immediate area, since they literally do not open at all on Sundays.

Another thing I have found particularly noteworthy here just by looking around is the rather aggressively disdainful atmosphere that this city/University has towards Capitalism itself, which is so strange considering I grew up being taught in school to arbitrarily hate anything inspired by Karl Marx.  For instance, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen signs that essentially amount to saying, “DOWN WITH CAPITALISM,” since I’ve been here.  I think one of my favorites so far has been the fact that there is a quote on a short stone wall right in front of die Mensa and Cafe “?” that says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Capitalism is like a beauty that kills itself from gluttony” with a picture of Marilyn Monroe between  the, “kills,” and the, “itself.”  I don’t know if that’s just a small percentage of rather radical students, remnants from the time when the DDR was still a country, or just a regular part of life here.

What is strangest to me is the fact that this attitude is so pervasive.  In the States, yes, you have left leaning Democrats, and even outright Communists and Socialists.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would never get to the point where people go around the city making graffiti, talking about how we need to finish what Marx started, and overthrow the Capitalist Fat Cats.  In fact, if you did that in the States, you would probably never be able to have a career as a politician, since everyone in the US is so terrified of any sort of political or economic system that isn’t full blown, free market, Capitalism.  The humor, of course, is that we don’t even have free markets.  That’s the first thing I learned in Macroeconomics: even America, the bastion of free markets, freedoms, and free people, does not have even remotely close to truly free markets.

I will say this though: for all of the differences between American business practices and German business practices, almost ALL of the workers I met here have been not only happier, but nicer than most people that I see at work in the States, save that angry little man with the phone…  It’s as though people are somehow…  Happy to be working.  I swear to God, even the few times I’ve had to get fast food when I’m here, you’ll find young adults, up to older people, smiling behind the counter, saying, “Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?” as though they don’t mind that they’re literally flipping burgers for a living at minimum wage (admittedly, it’s probably a LOT better than minimum wage in the States), doing the same thing, day in and day out.  It’s actually astounding.  And I don’t know what to attribute that to.  Maybe it is the shorter work days.  Maybe it is the higher wages allotted to them by law.  All I know is that if I ever need a job before I get a full fledged career, I want it to be in Germany.

I work in the food service industry back home.  I work at the restaurant chain called, “Ruby Tuesday” and I do pretty much everything except cook and serve there.  I host.  I bus tables.  I run food.  I expo, which I would explain, but it’s not at all relevant.  I can tell you some stories about flat out RUDE people that seem to think that just because they’re going out to a restaurant, they’re entitled to treat everyone at the restaurant as their own personal slaves.  People are jerks.  And everyone I work with hates working at Ruby Tuesday, because the food service industry is awful.  And when I host, 99% of the time, my job doesn’t involve showing people to their tables, or helping out the servers, or anything like that.  It’s just listening to the rest of the restaurant staff complain about how much they HATE their job, and how they want to quit, but for monetary reasons, or (for the students) their parents are making them work, they can’t.  And it shows in the way they approach tables, and how they talk to their customers, and how willing they are to react to every whim that their customers may have.  But I just get the impression that that cannot happen here, and I know how naive that sounds, but for the love of God, if a 20 year old girl can give me a burger with a smile, and with a laugh, even try to help me pronounce the words to my order better since she can tell I’m  American (the German word for “pickles” is something I will never be able to remember, nor pronounce correctly), then there’s just something fundamentally different.  I don’t know the cause, but it’s just mind blowing.

This is what I’ve learned: if I ever have a mid life crisis and want to kill myself from the monotony of my job, all I need to do is move to Germany, and apply for a job at Burger King.