So I’ve decided that this is a pretty good time to talk about something that I feel like a lot of people are curious about before they study abroad: classes. What are they like, and how different they are from classes in the States.
Well, I can tell you right now, classes here are pretty much amazing. Not for the educational quality per se, but just from my short time here I can tell: studying abroad is a student’s dream, ESPECIALLY if you don’t want to do much work.
Allow me to elaborate. I guess my point isn’t that classes here are easy. I’m taking two 6 LP classes on 17th Century Poetry and a seminar on Edith Wharton. It’s a lot of reading, and I have to do a 30 minute presentation and write a MINIMUM of 4,500 word essay at the end of the semester to get the equivalent of 3 credit points back at UMW. But there’s a pretty substantial silver lining.
For instance, grades don’t matter. Let me rephrase: grades aren’t as IMPORTANT. See, as long as I get the equivalent of a C, which I believe is a 3 in the German grading scale, I get the credits for my classes, and it does not affect my GPA in the slightest. Now, I’m not trying to brag, but I have a 3.86 and I worked damn hard for those grades. I’ve gotten ONE B+ since I’ve been to college, and the rest have been A’s and A-‘s. Plus, I’m graduating early, as a double major in English and Philosophy. I guess my point being, needing to get a C just to get credits for a class that have no bearing on my GPA, is like a dream come true.
Additionally, I’m American. There’s no real importance of that outside of the fact that 3 of my 5 classes are taught in English, to people whose first language was NOT English. I’m a God damn pro at English. I HAVE BEEN MY WHOLE LIFE. It’s my area of study, for Christ’s sake. I’m not saying I’m a better student than ANYONE here. I’m just saying… The fact I literally think in the language I’m having classes in definitely puts me at a slight advantage to even the most adept German speaker of English.
For instance, I’m taking a class called “Introduction to English Phonetics and Phonology.” Now, I got the class approved, and I will be getting credit for it. For those of you not privy to the “standard dialects” of English, if you will, there are two. There’s Received Pronunciation, the dialect spoken by the United Kingdom and taught in Europe, and General American. NOW I DON’T MEAN TO BRAG, but I have a pretty damn standard General American accent. Plus, I took a class on Phonology last semester. I’m getting elective credits for this class just because I needed to take at least 12 credits and 24 LPs to be a student here. And Professor Lorenz says he doesn’t care which dialect we use, General American, or Received Pronunciation. I’m a big of a leg ahead of the other people here.
There are two really weird things that I’ve noticed about classes here. First, that there are variants of credits (LPs) you can get for a given class. For instance, in my 17th Century Poetry class, you can take it for 3 LPs, or 6. The literal difference between the two is is you take the 3 LP option, you don’t have to do the 4,500 word paper at the end of the semester. But regardless, you’re in the same class as everyone else. So if Steve is taking a 3 LP class, he’ll be in the same class at Brian who is taking the class for 6 LPs. Granted, that’s my laymen’s understanding of the system, but to me it’s mindblowing. You can literally chose to do less work if you want to…
The next thing that I thought was really weird was just how the class timing works. All classes are scheduled in two hour intervals, once a week. But… You only have an hour and thirty minutes of class. For instance, I have a German class at 8 AM on Monday mornings. I don’t have to BE there until 8:15, since the class doesn’t start until then, and I leave at 9:45, before the class is technically over. I get why they do it: so everyone can get from the class that they’re in, to their next class, but I feel like it just makes more sense to be like, “Hey, classes are from x:15 until y:45.” Because this is where it gets confusing: your professor can tell you that class starts at the hour on the dot. My Phonetics Professor, for instance, wants to start class at 14 Uhr on the dot. Not 14:15, 14. So you then have to really plan out who wants you where, and when. You can simplify this process a whole lot, but evidently some kids need 30 minutes to get from one class to another on a campus that is SOMEHOW smaller than UMW’s campus. We get 10 minutes, and we do just fine getting from Jepson to Combs.
Like I mentioned, classes are once a week. It’s kind of nice not having to go to class all that often. I knew that coming into it, but I guess I’m just surprised that I only have 1 class every day of the week. It’s kind of nice, but kind of boring at the same time. I am taking the bare minimum of classes to get 24 LPs and 12 credits, but I feel like a lot of other people aren’t. As such, I have a lot of spare time because I’m not doing much. Since my freshman year, I’ve only taken 16 credits or 18 credits per semester, and the only reason I took 16 my freshman year is because the damn science requirement forced me to take a Biology class called Phage Hunters that was 4 credits due to the lab, and you can’t take more than 18 credits without paying extra. This is a breeze compared to back home.
So far, I like my teachers, save one. My German professor. Now, I didn’t LOVE my prep course professor, but she was nice, and I did learn some stuff. But this woman… I have two classes with her and I literally can’t understand a damn word she says. And she REFUSES to speak in English. Like, everyone in class is probably BETTER at English than German, and if no one is getting it, why not just explain what it is in English? But no, that’s not kosher for her. The thing I dislike most about her is what I mentioned earlier: I cannot understand her AT ALL. I hear that people that speak Standard German look down on Bavarians, who have a funky accent evidently. And THEN, that Bavarians and people that speak Standard German LAUGH at Austrians, because they’ve evidently screwed up the German language so much that it’s laughable. This woman speaks worse German than an Austrian. It’s awful. She’s no Professor Rotter, I can tell you THAT much.
My 17th Century Poetry professor is really nice, although a little timid. And the thing I find so interesting, is that his job is literally deciphering English and American literature, so he must be good at English, but every two seconds he says, “Um…” It never fails. It’s as though he’s actually thinking about what to say as he’s thinking it, while being a professor of English literature. My Edith Wharton professor is really cool, though. She worked in the banking industry or some crap before she became a professor, and her English is top notch. The other thing I like about that class is the fact that a class on Edith Wharton doesn’t really attract too many male students. There’s a huge stigma nowadays about men not wanting to read female authors. It’s why J.K. Rowling abbreviated her name: because she didn’t want men to not read Harry Potter. As such, I’m the SINGLE MAN in a class of 15 women. Nice… Very nice indeed. Plus, I’ve started “House of Mirth” and it’s pretty good so far. It’s always nice to like the literature of the class you’re in.
My last class is my Phonetics class which I’ve mentioned. The thing I find really interesting about my professor is that I didn’t even realize he was German until someone told me he was. He has such a strong Received Pronunciation accent, that I literally thought he was British. It makes sense. I mean, his job is teaching Germans how to speak English in a British way, so it all checks out. But still, it was really cool.
An important thing to note here, is that Germans are pretty damn serious about attendance. In 3 of my 5 classes, I’ve been told that if I miss more than 2 classes for WHATEVER reason, I automatically get a 5, which is an F. That is insane to me, since while participation and attendance are important in the States, unless you miss EVERY SINGLE class, there’s no way you’re going to fail based on attendance alone. That, I think is a good thing. Even if I don’t always LOVE having to get up and go to class, it makes sure that if I am going to skip class, I’ll have to plan it out and have a good reason.
The final thing I will say is that Germany needs to get its shit together with the whole “class registration,” thing. First, you have to sign up for classes, which is hard enough since they release classes you can register for in spurts, and classes fill up REALLY quickly since every student is allowed to register for classes as they come out, when they come out. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you have 120 credits, or 0, you register for the same classes when they are posted. Next, after you sign up for classes, if you miss the first class, you probably won’t get in, since the professor has a huge say in who gets in and who doesn’t, and if you pick up the class a few days after it was, he may just say, “Sorry, you didn’t come to the first day, so you can’t get in.” But I’m getting ahead of myself. The website here that you use to actually register for your classes, is mindbogglingly difficult to navigate. My dad is a computer technician. And I can tell you right now, even HE would have some trouble signing up for classes here. But back to what I was saying, the final cherry on top of the disaster that is German class registration, is the fact that even though you’ve registered, even though you’ve been to classes for about a month, even though it’s obvious you want to take the classes you signed up for, some time into the semester, you have to do what is called, “Booking.” That means that you have to go online and say you’re taking the classes you’ve already said you were taking when you registered, print out a form, and have not only your academic advisor sign it, but the International Office (presumably just for International students) and then turn it in to some bureaucratic office in the main hall. Just… Why? Why make it this difficult?
All of this aside, I have enjoyed classes here. I feel as though this University gets a bad rap because its relatively new compared to the older, and more prestigious Universities in Germany, but hey, so does UMW. And I love the fact I decided to go to UMW. Erfurt has a good school system, and I feel like all of my professors love what they do, and know a lot about what they’re teaching… Even if I can’t understand a word of what one of them says. I think one of the things I’ve learned being here is that unless you’re going to Princeton, or Harvard, all you’re paying for is a name. How much you learn, and what you do with your college education is up to you. People don’t become professors out of necessity. They do it because they love it, and they love teaching. You can get a good education anywhere. You just have to try.