Lessons learned in Bremen
After some whining and begging, I was granted an amazing opportunity to participate in a course on Intercultural Competences at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. I am not a very organized person but luckily, I got help with booking the plane tickets and compiling the necessary documents from my wonderful workmates. All I needed to do was to find my passport and start packing.
Despite my anxiety for flying (lesson number one: do not watch air crash investigations from Fox) all three flights went well and I landed in one piece to Bremen. Getting to the campus by train was a lot more difficult than holding you pee on a fully booked plane (lesson number two: window seat is not necessarily a good choice). First, I had to buy a tram ticket. After some searching, I found the ticket machine but it turned out that I does not take credit cards, only cash, and not just any cash: coins, and bills of 5 or 10 euros. That was brilliant since the smalles one I had was a twenty. Apparently, there are many places in Germany where credit cards are not accepted and thus (lucky for me) people carry cash. I was able to change my bill into smaller ones. Lesson number three: just ask and the Germans will help you. I had to change to a train at the central train station. Wow, that ticket machine was the masterpiece of bad user interface. I just could not figure out what kind of ticket to buy and neither did the poor old fellow who was just trying to stamp his ticket next to me. A helpful lady from the info desk came to my rescue. After pushing some buttons, I had a ticket in my hand. I managed to get on the right train and as I was sitting in it, I realized that I must look German since people talked to me in German (Lesson number four: Germans actually talk to strangers on trains). I didn’t want to be distracted, however, because I was counting stops. The sixth one was mine.
Everything was well organized: we lived on campus and everything, including meals, was taken care of. I even had a pet, a long legged spider in the corner of the room. The staff was very friendly and for some reason the teachers seemed to be enthusiastic about getting a chance to teach us. Half of the participants were students from Jacobs University and the other half a bit matured ones (like myself). Although it took me one whole day to travel to Bremen there were two participants who had travelled further – all the way from Mexico. To my surprise, one of the Jacobs students was a Finn, Joonas from Helsinki. He majors in psychology. The campus seemed to be very international overall. A quick visit to the school’s website revealed that Jabobs University has students from 100 different countries. That is pretty impressive I’d say. On the first night, we had a little get together party where we could bring something to eat from our own country. Needless to say, I brought salmiakki. I ended up eating most of it myself because, you know, it’s salty and normal human beings like their candy sweet. I was kind of expecting it not be a big hit (it never is) but what I hadn’t expected was that one of the few German students approached me talking Finnish! He turned out to be some sort of language prodigy being able to speak 17 different languages. I realized I have no excuse for my poor language selection. Later that night I turned my laptop on and signed up for a free trial of Spanish course in WordDive. But just like my plans to start doing yoga or sit ups or riding my exercise bike every night the excitement lasted for only three nights. Lesson number five: you can always do it later… or maybe not.
Even theory can be fun if you are in the right company.
The participants were divided into two groups. Due to my teaching background, I was in the theory group while the youngsters were learning some teaching methods. Every now and then, we’d get together for joint sessions. Very often, we got to be guinea pigs for the teacher trainee group. That way we got to know about exercises that we could use in our classes plus got to experience the exercises the way our students will experience them. Instead of knickknack souvenirs I have now a collection of exercises for my classes.
The days were full of lessons and activities but at night I managed to go through my work e-mail and do some grading. I also learned something new about the functions of my phone. Lesson number six: it changes the times in calendar according to the time zone you are in. Of course I only discovered this after having given my students wrong times for my office hours.
Teaching style does not necessarily match with the learning style.
On my trip back home I decided to take a taxi to the airport since the train/tram ticket system was so complicated and I didn’t want to miss my flight. As I was waiting for the taxi (which was ordered for me) outside in the cold (they had snow that week) I decided to start walking towards the campus main gate. Surely I’d spot a taxi and would be able to sign it to stop. Lesson number seven: not all taxis have a taxi sign on top. Let’s just say that next time I’ll stay put. The drive back to the airport took longer than I had expected because there was an accident on the motorway. The taxi driver was originally from Turkey and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to get some insight into how it feels like to be an immigrant. Somehow we got into taking about the situation in Turkey. His views about it and human rights were a bit different from mine but what can you say since you are sitting in his car. Nodding will take you to the airport for sure. Lesson number eight: never start talking politics with a taxi driver, especially if the drive is a loooong one.
Now, a month later, the chocolates are long gone but I am still unpacking my brain. I will end this with lyrics from our karaoke night “with so many light-years to go and things to be found”.
Bremen has it all: something old, something new, someone homeless, something blue