March 12, 2007

Deutsche Schule III

So, Friday was my last day of German class -- for now. I'm due to start another intensive course in Würzburg next week, but not until after a much-needed vacation. (Kevin and I are in Dresden right now, where he's attending a conference.)

As an amusing finale to my two months at the Frankfurt school, I was handed two pieces of paper on my last day of class. One was survey about my experiences at the school. The questions were in English, and I answered them in English. Go figure. The other was a Zertifikat stating that I had completed 184 hours language instruction and zertifying that I can "speak spontaneously and fluently with a native speaker of German without burden." Or at least that's what I understood it to read, after I looked up all the really big words in my German dictionary.

Anyway, as I wrote before, I won't miss the two-hour commute to Frankfurt or my second-rate little German school, but I will miss the first-rate students who suffered through the whole experience with me.

When I arrived in Germany and couldn't string together a single sentence, they would helpfully finish my sentences for me. And when the teacher would read aloud my test scores -- almost always the lowest in the class -- and lament, "Well, Sarah, it's clear you didn't understand anything we've been doing for the past week," they would look at me with sympathy instead of superiority.

Among my closest friends at the school were an Argentinian bassoonist; a basketball-playing, break-dancing Chinese undergrad; and a hydraulic engineer from Madagascar. It was a hodge-podge group, but intensive language courses -- and probably anything with the word "intensive" in the title -- have a way of binding you to people to whom you have little in common. (I watched more than one romance bloom in this hothouse environment.)

But I suppose it's not really surprising that relationships progress quickly under these circumstances. We basically spent five hours a day doing verbal exercises designed to help us practice that day's grammar lesson while getting better acquainted with one another:

"What was your happiest/saddest childhood experience?" (past tense)

"What are your dreams/hopes for the future?" (future tense)

But, in many ways, it's a false sense of closeness. For all of these "personal" discussions, I still didn't know the essential truth that my classmates had been struggling through the whole experience just like me. Then, on my last day of class, they invited me out to lunch at the local Asian restaurant, where, over our Thom Kah and Pad Thai, I learned that the Argentinian bassoonist had spent her first week at the school in a state of constant anxiety, that the Chinese student was depressed over having hit a serious language plateau, and that even the hydraulic engineer -- by far the best student in the class -- was terrified of progressing to the advanced class. Best of all, I learned that they didn't think my German was nearly as bad as I did.

Well, that would have been really useful information, much more so than knowing that if he won the lottery, Yusef would buy a house for each member of his extended family (conditional). Perhaps if I had known that everyone else in the class was just as insecure as I was, I would have performed a little better myself (past conditional).

But "es geht immer so," as the Germans say. Still, I'll try to keep this little lesson in my pocket when I start at my new German school.

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