Taking on Germany's Green City

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 3)

Last blog of the semester

Well, we’ve made it. I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon. I can’t believe I’ve been in Germany for five whole months. This is the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent away from home. I’m ready to leave! Not because I hated Germany (in fact, quite the opposite), but rather because I feel like I’ve spent enough time here. I’ve also done everything I set out to do at the beginning of the semester. I’m definitely better when it comes to German, and I’ve established a few contacts here in Europe. This is my third semester abroad, and I must say that this semester has been the best overall. I came to Germany confident in my German skills with a set of expectations, which is something that I cannot necessarily say for the other two semesters in Paris. While this has been a very new experience, I feel like being a two-time study abroad veteran has prepared me for a number of things. I have not suffered from homesickness, though I do miss many things from back home. I never once longed to go back to Chicago; I was always happy being here. Having studied abroad twice before has also helped me in terms of adapting to foreign teaching styles. While IES is technically an American program, the teaching styles of professors are very authentic. Taking two classes at the University of Freiburg with Germans is also something that I’m proud of myself for. This has definitely been the most challenging semester so far in terms of new things, but I managed to do it! And I couldn’t be happier with my decision to study here in Freiburg. I’m looking forward to my classes back on campus. I’ll be a senior next year, which is something I’m still coming to terms with. This past semester has been a great way of preparing myself for the academic challenges ahead. I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my blog posts! This has been a wonderful way of sharing my study abroad experience with the world. I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity.

I’ll attach a few photos from the past couple of weeks here in Freiburg.

Vielen Lieben Dank!



Schulfest: a party thrown by Rotteck to earn money for individual classes


Fireworks show at Seepark

From the Lehrerparty at Rotteck

Reflection on my internship

Hi, everyone!

Over the past couple of months, I have had the honor of working as an English teaching assistant at the Rotteck-Gymnasium here in Freiburg. Today was my last day working with the youngest group (10 year-olds). I work with them in the morning from 7:50 to 9:30. Today’s class was very relaxed; I sat in a chair at the front of the classroom and fielded all of their questions about the United States and Chicago. It was a great exercise because I got to practice my German and they got to practice their English. This is their first ever English class, so I made a conscious effort to speak slowly and use simplified language. When they couldn’t express themselves in English or had trouble understanding my answers in English, I switched to German.  Some of the questions were very common: What’s an elementary school like in the US? What are your favorite sports? Others were more politically charged: Do you feel safe in the US knowing people have easy access to guns? Do many people own them? I was happy to answer all of their questions and made a point of doing so honestly. It was interesting to witness their reactions to hearing things like metal detectors in high schools and school buses (which they don’t have in Freiburg); the former made me a bit ashamed at the current state of affairs. All in all, it was a very productive discussion. It was also good because it gave me a chance to inform them about my country as someone who actually lives there; many people in the world have an image of the US that is a result of the influx of US media and American soft power in the world. At the end of the class, they gave me a little “thank you” gift (I’ll attach a picture). I’m really lucky to have had the opportunity to work at the Rotteck-Gymnasium this summer!

Thanks for reading!

~Derrick 🙂

Der Sonnenuntergang

I’ll miss them!

Vauban Sommerfest

Hi, everyone!

Yesterday was Vauban’s Sommerfest, which is one of the most anticipated events of the summer. Each student housing community has its own “Sommerfest” (“Summer festival”), but it has been argued that Vauban’s is the best one. It was happening literally right outside my building! The theme for the festival was Alice in Wonderland. There was a lot of food, drinks, and, of course, music (seriously, they had a lawn dedicated to techno music…). It was a lot of fun! Lots of people showed up to the event; it went from 11 am to 11 pm.  It was a bit like Fun Day at Skidmore, actually! Made me miss campus a little bit. Vauban is the sustainable community in Freiburg, and it really embraces the “hippie/alternative” from the 60s and 70s. I mean, people walk around barefoot, play guitar on the lawn and go to demonstrations demanding a fossil fuel phase-out.

There was one thing that kind of made me uncomfortable, though. I’ve probably said this in a previous post, but there are a lot of non-black people here to wear “locs”. Most of them are the “alternative” types who think it’s really cool. However, I would argue that it’s a form of cultural appropriation. White people don’t have to live with the stigma that comes with them, so in my opinion, they shouldn’t wear them. I was literally surrounded by such people at the festival, and then even had a station called “Wonder-Locks” where people were getting it done for free. I have no personal beef with people who do it, but I do think that ignorance plays a major role. This is something I have had to explain to my fellow Americans as well as Germans, so I’m not really surprised.

I’m starting to miss the U.S. a bit more, now, but I’m still not ready to go back. My classes next semester have got me really excited, and I’m starting on post-grad applications. I definitely want to come back to Germany in the future.


“Wonder-Locks” sign


So long, IES classes!

I’m finally done with my IES classes for this semester! There were only three IES classes that I ended up keeping: my German language class (required), my politics course, and my internship seminar. It was really nice having a super-advanced German class for the first time, and the fact that I made it through is definitely a sign of my progress in the language. I am now able to speak German at a faster pace than before, I have a better grasp of the grammar, and my vocabulary has been expanded. I loved the class because I was surrounded by people who appreciated the language as much as I do. As a matter of fact, I can now comfortably say that I’m fluent in German. Even though I’ve only been studying the language for three years, I have made a lot of progress due to my passion for languages as well as the amount of time I have dedicated to studying the language in my free time. My politics class was also great! The instructor always spoke very slowly, making sure that everyone understood the course content. I learned a lot about Germany’s political system. My internship seminar was nice because it gave us all a space to discuss how our internships were going. On Thursday there was a “farewell dinner”, something that every IES program does (I remember the ones in London and Paris). We ate traditional German food, drank beer, and presented the results of our hard work during the semester. The film class showed us their films, and I presented my German class’ newspaper project, where we had to interview experts and conduct research on a topic of our choice. I chose racism and cultural appropriation in Freiburg as mine. The paper came out looking really nice! I also got a certificate for making a conscious effort to use German throughout the semester. All in all, I am definitely glad that I chose IES’ Language and Area Studies program for this semester. Officially a month before I head back to the U.S.!

Thanks for reading!

Derrick 🙂

The newspaper’s cover

My certificate!

Almost a month before I leave…

Hi, everyone!

This is the week that my courses at IES come to a close… After this week, I’ll just have my two courses at the university as well as my internship. You know, I still haven’t entirely gotten used to being in school this late… I mean, in the USA I would be working a summer job and doing things around Chicago, but I’m still attending seminars in Germany. I’m definitely not complaining about being here (this is an amazing opportunity), but it’s something I constantly think about. My German has definitely gotten a lot better; people have even told me that my accent has gotten less noticeable when speaking. My vocabulary has also expanded quite a bit. Time has really flown by, though… This is my third semester abroad, and London and Paris definitely felt a lot slower (in a good way, of course). It’s interesting because those two are major cities, whereas Freiburg’s rather small in comparison. Life here is not very fast-paced, and one can walk to the city center within around an hour from pretty much any part of the city. I still need to go to France before I leave! Strasbourg is the one place people told was a must-see. Freiburg really does have an awesome location; it’s situated near the French and Swiss borders. On Saturdays, Swiss people come here to do their shopping. I also see groups of French students here every week. I wonder if being from a place that’s so close to the border gives one a “European” identity, rather than a German one. You’re constantly surrounded by people who speak other languages and cultural influences are a given. It’s meant to really hot this week, with temperatures reaching into the nineties.

Well, I have to keep working on a presentation for class next week. Wish me the best of luck with these last few IES classes!

Thanks for reading,

~Derrick 🙂

Back in London (Again)

Hi, everyone! This week I was in London (YES, again), as we have been on “Pfingstferien”, or holidays because of Pentecost. Germany sure does get a lot of breaks from school during the spring semester! Unfortunately, in typical London fashion, the weather has been absolutely dreadful the whole time I’ve been here! As a matter of fact, it’s as if I brought the bad weather with me… Anyway, my time here in London has been great!  I met up with some friends and visited some of my favorite places (including Borough and Camden Market, two of the most famous ones here). I had some amazing jerk fried chicken from Camden as well as delicious ice cream on top of a brownie cookie. I spent this week getting work done, too, as it’s getting close to the end of the semester and deadlines are getting closer. London is full of comfortable cafés. I went to the Tate Modern for the first time this week, which was really interesting. I don’t normally go to museums, but it was really cool seeing all of the artwork that was on display. I also ended up getting my hair cut for the first time since I was back in the U.S., and I must say, I prefer my barber back home. That’s one thing I definitely miss about home!

I head back to Freiburg tomorrow. Looking forward to the final stretch!

Until next week,

Derrick 🙂

Padua and Venice

This past week I was in two beautiful cities: Padua and Venice.

We left on Wednesday from Freiburg’s main train station and went to Milan Central. After about twenty minutes or so of waiting, we took the train to Padua. Padua’s a city which is centered around its university. It isn’t as flashy as Venice, but there’s a lot of beauty in this city. There’s the Botanic Garden, which contains plants from all over the world. Lots of markets sell fresh fruits and vegetables. There are also a lot of churches in Padua, which is something that a lot of Italian cities have in common. It was really nice being able to speak Italian with native speakers again. I have an Italian tandem partner in Freiburg, but being in Italy’s a lot different. Helping the other IES students translate signs or communicate with the locals was wonderful practice, and I wish I had more opportunities like that.

If you haven’t heard of Padua before, I’m certain that you are familiar with Venice. This city was especially significant during the Italian Renaissance, and it is known internationally for its bridges and canals. Venice is actually comprised of 118 islands! Every time you cross a bridge, you’re going from one island to the next. There were lots of tourists everywhere and things were expensive compared to Padua, but Venice is an unbelievably charming city. The buildings are very worn, but that’s because the city’s government is dedicated to its preservation. There are water taxis known as vaporetti which can be used to get to some of the bigger islands. Piazza San Marco and San Giorgio Maggiore are probably my two favorite spots in the city.

I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to go to both of these cities.

Until next time!

~Derrick 🙂


Seepark + Europawahl

Hey, everyone!

The weather here in Freiburg was absolutely beautiful, so today my tandem partner and I decided to meet at the Seepark, which is basically the area surrounding Flückigersee, a small lake in the neighborhood of Betzenhausen. Lots of people were there, and we saw lots of turtles, fish, and ducks. This is probably the nicest weather I’ve experienced in Freiburg thus far; I hope it never goes away!

Today is also Europawahl, which means that Germans have the chance to vote for the European Parliament. Citizens of Freiburg also have their local elections today! Politically, Freiburg is a very liberal city; this has a lot to do with its green surroundings (more liberal parties are likely to protect the natural environment), as well as the fact that this is a city full of university students. The Green Party and the CDU are very popular at the local level. I expect high voter turnout because Freiburg is a very politically conscious place. It’s interesting observing elections here because there are so many different parties to choose from. They practice proportional representation as opposed to First Past the Post, which means that smaller parties have a chance to get some power in the larger political system. I won’t inject my personal beliefs into this post, but I do think that Germans appreciate being able to vote for so many different parties. Polarization still occurs in German politics, but it takes the form of coalitions rather than a bipolar bloc system. I appreciate the fact that I am here for the parliamentary elections; I support democracy and enjoy seeing people who take their right to vote seriously.

I’ll also be going to Padua and Venice starting on Wednesday, so that’s something to look forward to!

Until next time!

~Derrick 🙂


Privilege :)

Hello, everyone!

Firstly, I would like to congratulate all members of this year’s graduating class at Skidmore. You all are incredible, and I wish you the best of luck for the future! 🙂

Things are starting to wind down in my IES courses, but my university classes are really picking up the pace. As I said in an earlier blog post, all classes are in German. However, all of the readings for my EU class are in English. This is somehow more challenging for me because it forces me to translate my thoughts from English into German, rather than staying in one language. It makes the readings a lot easier, but the amount of thought is practically doubled. Studying in German has made me a lot more conscious of what English learners in the U.S. are going through. My German is advanced, but I still have trouble understanding things and articulating myself in certain situations. On top of that, I chose to come here. People who go abroad to live and study full time deserve so much respect! Another thing that this experience is making me aware of is my status as a native English speaker. The readings for this class are in English, and that’s obviously great news for me. However, not everyone gets that privilege and here in Germany, I am constantly aware of it. English has made a big impact on modern German, so I hear English everywhere. It must be very confusing for someone who can’t speak the language. Also, I can exist in an international environment and not have to worry about getting my point across. I am very glad that I can speak German, but this is the first time that I have truly been confronted with my privilege in this way.

At my internship this week, I gave a presentation to one of the classes about Chicago, my hometown. After I was done speaking, the students were allowed to ask me questions. As was expected, a lot of the questions were political in nature. This was such an interesting discussion because I got to understand things from the German perspective, as well. They even let me answer a couple of questions in German so that I could practice my skills! I also helped the younger students with the Simple Past tense, something that native English speakers don’t ever have to worry about doing. The kids are really enthusiastic about learning English! When it comes to my German, I’m still working on improving my spontaneity while speaking… I have a tendency to think about the grammar when I have to speak with someone, which kind of slows down the conversation. Speaking of German, I should probably get back to working on my final project for my language course… Haha.

Thanks for reading!

~Derrick 🙂

First week of work at Rotteck


Hi, everyone!

My first week at the Rotteck-Gymnasium was wonderful. I’m there four days a week and visit English classes as well as courses in other subjects which are taught in English. It felt a bit strange speaking in English with Germans (I generally avoid doing so unless it’s a Tandem exchange), but after a few hours, I got used to it. I’m honestly impressed by 1) how well the students can speak English, and 2) the fact that these kids are studying whole subjects in English at such a young age. If I had started learning German when I was ten, my skills would be impeccable by now! I speak in German in one-on-one conversations with the teachers unless we’re in the classroom. One thing that I’m always aware of while working is the fact that they learn British English in Germany. There are a number of differences in spelling and pronunciation which can sometimes confuse English learners, so I always have to be careful when correcting their mistakes.

Aside from helping the students with English, I want to use this as an opportunity for cultural exchange. I want to share aspects of life in the United States as well as learn a bit more about academic life here in Germany. A lot of them have probably seen stories on the news concerning American politics or issues, but have no idea what any of it is actually like. It’ll be interesting explaining things like the U.S. electoral system and why gun culture is seemingly embedded into the fabric of American society.  I’m very fortunate to have received this internship position, and I look forward to sharing more with you in the future!

Until next time,

Derrick 🙂

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