Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Days 3 & 4 in Berlin

June 18th

The day started with a group breakfast in our hostel’s cute dining area. We met Manuela in the lobby and started our walk through the neighborhood.  The air was crisp and cool: perfect walking condition. Our first stop took us to the edge of Kreuzberg where the Berlin Wall once stood dividing East and West Berlin.  An untrained eye might have missed the landmark because it was simply a change in brick patterns to form a line in the sideways and streets.  Manuela’s story about being welcomed into West Berlin was heartwarming. I can’t imagine the amount of excitement in the air when people were able to pass freely between the Wall.  Throughout the walkthrough, there were incredible street installations and graffiti images that caught my eye.  Since my research project is on street art, I’ve found myself being very aware of the presences of the art.  We then made our way to the Soviet Memorial where 7,000 Soviet soldiers were buried after World War 2.  The memorial was incredible. Huge trees bordered the long grassy stretch of burial grounds and 16 reliefs, which represented the Soviet’s 16 states, depicted a story leading up to a giant statue.  So far, the memorial was my favorite part of the city.
Today’s class period was great. It was nice getting to just talk about how we were feeling about Germany and our overall adjustment.  We went around the room and shared one thing that we were surprised by, one thing that we appreciated, and one thing that bothered us.  I said that was extremely surprised by all the wonderful food here.  We can walk into any restaurant and the food is diverse and delicious! I also appreciated how trendy and active Berliners seem to be. Everyone is always biking or walking which is very cool to see. So far, the only thing that I’ve been moderately bothered by is the fact that nowhere accepts credit or debit cards. Everything is cash only, which makes me a little uncomfortable because now I have to carry cash around the city.  Overall, people talked about how friendly and open the people of Berlin have been and how much they hated walking up for 5 flights of stairs to our rooms.  Manuela then shared her experience of coming to the US for the first time.  She told us that she traveled for weeks by herself, just enjoying her own company.  I felt like I could connect more with her story now that I know what it feels like to be traveler in a foreign country. 
After class, I also felt like I had a better grasp on what I need to focus on for my research project. It was nice to get designated time to just talk with my group about our next steps. I’m currently writing up survey questions to present to a class of students at Humboldt.
As a group, we ended our day with an international student mixer at a bar near the university. It was a cool space where Berliners and international students could meet and talk. Everyone was so nice and they really appreciated when we tried to speak German with them.  And with that marks another incredibly busy but successful day.

June 19th 
Today we visited a German secondary school and I can honestly say this was one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve ever had about education.  We got to learn more about the tracking method and how students are placed within the system.  The school we visited was called the Heinrich-von-Stephan Oberschule, a school that combines both the Hauptschule and Realschule, or the lower two tier, tracks.  Karin Jaegar, a teacher, showed us the methodology and philosophies behind their program.  We were then able to sit in a class and watch a typical German class.  I sat in on a group of younger students in a math class. The class was taught in German, but most of the students spoke English.  The language barrier made it difficult to completely understand what they students were doing, but it looked like the start of algebra because they were working with graphs and shapes.  The class seemed to be organized in a more casual style than most US classrooms. Students were clearly given freedom and trust from teacher, which was really cool to see.  Within the class, the students got a math test back and the teacher explained that they had an opportunity to raise their grades on the spot if they were able to apply their math skills to a real world situation. The teacher was very patient with his students, even though some seemed to be a little bit of troublemakers.  I’m really grateful for this opportunity to glimpse inside the German education system because it is something I have never come across. 
Posted by: Michaila Forte

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