(Originally posted on my old personal blog, Adventures with KHill!)
Hello dear friends and family.
I’ve made it through my seventh week here in Germany and it was a nice one! I spent last week working with Frau B in the Ferienprogramm office. I can’t remember if I’ve explained this before, but the Ferienprogramm means “vacation program” and is basically a whole bunch of activities/day trips offered every day of the local schools’ summer break and sponsored by the city that local kids can sign up to participate in. These can be things from trips to the movies to an outing to Legoland to a cooking class to rock climbing. There are multiple activities offered every day and kids can sign up for as many as they (or their parents) want. The Friday before last was when the sign-ups opened up, so last week, the office was very busy doing all the planning to make sure everyone gets the sign-ups they wanted, all the money goes to the right places, more spots can be added to more popular excursions, and so on. I got to do a lot of little office-y tasks - putting into the computer who paid for what and how much they paid, making nametags for kids and chaperones, counting money in the cash box, organizing supplies for excursions. I enjoyed learning about how much work they put into the Ferienprogramm; it seems like something that only happens a couple of times a year (Easter break and summer break) wouldn’t require a ton of effort, but the two-three ladies who regularly work on the Ferienprogramm do so all year long to make sure everything runs perfectly. The ladies themselves were fun to work with and be around, as well. They all look like models, first of all, and they are smart and hardworking and get their ish done. Lots of respect for them and their jobs seem like ones that I would enjoy. Maybe I’ll try to bring the Ferienprogramm to the states?? I know, it sounds basically like what our summer camps do, but it’s sponsored by the government so it’s cheap and accessible for a wider variety of kids. It’s also different options every day so you can pick to participate on just the days that interest you most and plan with all your friends to go together. Do I wish I had had a Ferienprogramm in my life as a child? Maybe. Next week, I get to spend my last week of “work” being a chaperone on a different Ferienprogramm excursion every day. I’m really looking forward to that, plus I got a free Ferienprogramm t-shirt that will cause the children participating to assume that I’ll actually be a responsible adult who knows what I’m doing. Sweet.
Over the weekend, I got to do a few fun things. Friday night, my host family and I went to an end of the school year party at my host sister’s school that had a - get this - Native American theme. Really, the called it an “Indianerfest” but I’m trying to be a little more PC? It was…wild. I still don’t really understand why that was the theme, but I guess it’s similar to when Americans celebrate Oktoberfest…I guess? We don’t really get the meaning behind what we’re doing, but the costumes and music and food are fun, so let’s have a party! That’s the best way I can explain it. It was still fun, though, and I got a lot of free food. On Saturday, I went into Munich and did a little souvenir shopping, mostly for friends and family (don’t get too excited, everybody - I’m an unpaid intern). It’s crazy to think that this coming weekend is my only one left in Munich since the next two after that, I’ll be on vacation with my host family. I think I’m already entering my rose-colored-glasses nostalgia mode even though I won’t be back in America until August 18th. Walking around Munich this weekend and Fürstenfeldbruck today, I’ve looked around a lot and thought, “how is this my life?” If you had told me three summers ago, before my freshman year of college, that this was the kind of stuff I would get to be doing and places I would get to live over the next few years, I truly wouldn’t have believed it. I feel proud of myself for going after certain opportunities and working hard my whole life, but man, it definitely feels like a lot of fortunate coincidences that ultimately led me here. I couldn’t be more thankful. This week, I’m back with Herr M in the SB for my last full week in the Rathaus. I’m going to try to be the best clueless American intern they’ve ever seen and go out on the highest note.
Something that has come up a lot this summer and that I’ve thought about a good deal this week in particular is the privilege that comes with being a native English speaker. It’s one of many privileges afforded to me as a middle-class, white American that was determined completely by the family into which I was born, but it’s not one that I consciously think about so much in the U.S. People here refer to English almost daily as “die Weltsprache” - the language of the world. More and more, young and old people across the world are learning English, whether it’s mandatory at school, helpful in getting careers, or just a desired skill to operate in this “global marketplace.” As Americans, this makes us so lucky - the rest of the world is coming to us, learning our language, accommodating and making things easier on us. I’m asked all the time - mostly in America, but definitely in Germany, too - why on Earth I am studying German. All German kids now learn English from the third grade on and while it’s not so prevalent with adults here currently, it will be as my generation and those younger grow up. I get that German doesn’t seem to have the most relevance in the world and I can understand where people are coming from with the whole “why learn a foreign language if everyone speaks my own” argument. From my perspective, though, the fact that everyone else learns English gives us all the more responsibility as Americans to do our part and meet them halfway, at least. There are so many parts of a place’s culture and people that can only be understood by learning the language (and/or, if you get the chance, living there). If everyone else in the world is seeking to understand us and the way our society works through language, it is only fair to make our best effort to try to understand them in return. The world absolutely does not revolve around America, and it is unfortunately so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it does. I think so much unrest in the world is due to the belief - however subtle - in the superiority/inferiority of nations, peoples, or cultures, and a lack of understanding of what really makes one another who we are. We don’t understand those who are “foreign” because we’re not trying hard enough. I truly believe world peace is possible (yes, you probably just laughed, but ask me sometime and I’ll tell you why). Big, massive, Earth changing steps like that, though, will begin with the littlest things - for example, studying languages and cultures outside of our own. In conclusion, by learning German, I am creating world peace. Just kidding. But there is value in every language, every culture, every person who you talk to and engage with. That is so important to recognize and remember. German may seem so random, but there are 80 million people in this country alone who speak it as their mother tongue. 80 million isn’t nothing - those are 80 million people with important experiences and things to say that I would never come close to fully knowing without speaking their language, not to mention the thousands of years of history and culture that their homeland holds that I can better learn about with a grasp of spoken and written German. Basically, I think every language - no matter how seemingly small or insignificant - is massively important to preserve and for new speakers to keep learning. A world where everyone speaks English would be not only boring and contribute to erasure of entire cultures, but would encourage the unhealthy idea that English-speaking people are the ones on top and the rest of the world should fall at our feet. So I suppose that’s my soapbox message for today. I realize, too, that I’m coming from a place where I’ve had the privilege to learn a language like German and to travel and to go to college and study it there. But most public schools (that I know of, anyway) offer at least one language in high school. If that’s the only chance you ever get, take it. Learn your basic Spanish vocabulary and use it when you can in order to connect with other people and show them that you think not only their language, but what they have to say in it, matters to you. Then, we can all hold hands and make a circle around the whole world and sing Kumbaya in thousands of different languages. That’s the dream.
Now, on a much less soapbox-y note, the reason for this blog title: the baffling-though-it-really-shouldn’t-be German word, “genau,” pronounced geh-now. First of all, while I’m sure I learned this word at some point in German class, I am positive that I never understood how important it was or the ridiculous frequency with which it is used. It is kind of a catch-all word in a lot of settings I’ve been in here. While its dictionary definition is along the lines of “exactly” or “precisely,” it is used WAY more often than we would ever use either of those terms in English. Basically, it can be and is used for any of the following:
“I don’t have anything to say so I’m using this to fill the silence”
Seriously, this word is used at least once every time a coworker opens his/her mouth. It has taken me so long to catch on to the different purposes that they have in saying “genau” and I’m pretty sure I still don’t use it properly myself. Still, I would not be surprised if I go back home and start nodding and responding with “genau” to everything or just filling any moment of silence with a long, breathy “genau” sigh. I’m sure we have little communicative ticks that stick out and are just as funny to non-native English speakers (looking at myself and many others who say “like” and “kinda” all the dang time). It’s just something that I noticed and now can’t unnotice, and I mentally chuckle to myself about it. I should’ve been keeping a tally of how many times I’ve heard it since I’ve been here but a) the count would literally be in the thousands and b) wow, what a lame way to spend my time. So it’ll just stay an inside joke with myself…cool, right? Anyway, going to stop writing now. I never expect these posts to be as long as they are. Genau.