Spain, Birthday, Ferien

So quite a lot has gone on in a relatively short time since I last wrote. Where to start, where to start...

Last Saturday started with another visit to the soccer stadium in Bielefeld, this time with 14 other American exchange students. The experience in the fan block of a Bundesliga game once again did not fail to deliver. Honestly, if any of you are ever in a country that loves soccer (all of Europe and Latin America...) , I cannot recommend strongly enough picking up some cheap standing room-only tickets in the fan section of the local team and just expereriencing (and taking part in) the atmosphere and enthusiam.

After the game I had to hustle back to Gütersloh to meet up with the rest of the students from my grade level to begin our wonderful 20+ hour bus ride to Tossa de Mar, a town on the coast of Spain near Barcelona.

We arrived, got out of the bus, and were amazed by the tremendous weather. It is just beautiful there. After spending the rest of Sunday exploring the town and getting settled in, we spent Monday lounging on the beach.

Tuesday we hopped back in the bus and went to...

...Figueres, where I saw this graffiti (in English?). Catalonia, the region in which we spent the entire week, is an "autonomous community" of Spain. They speak a different language, called Catalan, that is similar to Spanish. The capital and heart of Catalonia is Barcelona. As you can see from this picture, there's always rumblings about Catalonian independence. (First someone wrote "Catalonia is Spain!", then another person added a "not", then someone painted over the "not"...and so on) In Figueres we visited the Salvador Dali museum. The man seems sometimes brilliant sometimes just plain weird, and more of the latter.

After that, we bussed over to Girona, the capital, where we wanted to visit this cathedral...

...until we found out that the entrance would cost 5 euros. No thanks!

So we walked along the outer walls of the city. This picture is taken from one of the guard towers, and the people down below are my classmates.

On Wednesday we traveled to Barcelona to sightsee, shop, and hear constant warnings from our teachers and bus driver about pickpockets, although no one came close to being robbed.

First we stopped by La Sagrada Família, a basilica which, like much of what we saw in Spain, is under construction.

We spent the next while strolling down La Rambla, a 1.2 kilometer long strip of shops, street performers, restaurants, booths, and stores. I think this street performer could juggle better than anyone in America.

The Christopher Columbus memorial. I don't think this picture accurately shows how tall this thing was...

In any case, it's pointing to America, and so am I. Hi guys!

The busy harbor in Barcelona, Spain. Some guys got together 5 Euros to get Jörn to jump in, and he did. It's not such a big deal for him though, because he just so happens to swim in such water every time he participates in a triathlon.

My 18th birthday started at midnight the next day on the beach (shortly after our class was thrown out of the room and dance floor we had rented in a nearby hotel for a dance party...we were too loud) celebrating with all the kids from my grade and continued with a whirlwind tour through Spain and France to crossing the border to Germany shortly before midnight.

After getting home at 7 the next morning and sleeping just a bit more, I had my birthday party Saturday night outside at my house here. It was beautiful outside and it was a fun evening. After cleaning up the next day, my host grandparents came over for Kaffee, the German equivalent of tea time.

We ate delicious cake, drank tea and coffee, and conversed for several hours. After that we grilled bratwurst, ate, and talked more. At the end I drank Jägermeister (German liquor) with my host grandpa, my host grandma, and my host dad as a toast to my birthday.

And now up to the present: today begins my two week fall break. This week I'm planning on relaxing and spending time with my little host cousins (the ones from a previous post) and next week I'm going to Brussels with a stop in Aachen on the way. As always, comments, questions, and discussion are welcome!


Janusz-Korczak Gesamtschule

Hello all and I'm writing today with good news! I'm leaving later today for the class trip to Barcelona, Spain. They found space for me, so I'll be able to celebrate my 18th birthday next Friday in Barcelona. Not to mention that the scholarship picks up the tab for a class trip. But before that, I'm going to Bielefeld this afternoon for another Arminia Bielefeld game. There's just such atmosphere in the stadium, I can't get enough of it. I'm also looking to go to the stadiums in Dortmund and Munich sometime this year.

Speaking of my class trip, school, and a smooth segue, I took some pictures of my school.

"Janusz-Korczak Gesamtschule : Ohne Kinder wäre Nacht"
(Janusz Korczak was a children's author, teacher, and ran an orphanage during WW2. "Ohne Kinder wäre Nacht" translates directly to "Without children would be night")

Instead of a big parking lot (or a not big enough parking lot, as the case was at my school in America), they have lots of bike racks. A bike is a lot more a means of transportation and a lot less a hobby here.

You may have noticed the word "Gesamtschule" at the end of the name of the school. I'll explain this, but first a step back with a more general look at the German secondary education system, or at least what I understand of it at this point. Those of you who know more than I do about this, please let me know if I'm mistaken.

In Germany, the secondary school system is stratified after kindergarten and four to six years (depending on the state) of elementary school. The students are then divided based on the recommendation of the teacher and move on to Gymnasium (8-9 years), for the strongest students who will complete the Abitur (end of high school test) and go on to study at a university, Realschule (6 years), for intermediate students, or Hauptschule (6 years), for students who will pursue vocational education.

A Gesamtschule is a combination of all three. Some students leave after the Abschluss in 10th grade, which is the end of mandatory education. They then pursue vocational training, internships, or work. Other students continue and work towards their Abitur and continue their studies at a university.

It's hard to describe in text and it still looks convulted in a picture. What do you think? Is it better to have specific schools to prepare students for specific paths? Or is it unfair to judge a student after elementary school? Which system do you think serves the students better?


Altstadtfest und Bevölkerungsdichte

Hello to all of you on a nice, relaxing Sunday here. This weekend was the Altstadtfest (old city festival) in Rheda, which is a lot like a county fair in America, except there's more music (modern music and oompah bands), more beer, and less flashy lights. Unfortunately, because of the moody weather in Germany, the festival wasn't as well-attended as it could have been, but it was still fun, especially by one of the live music stages.

Today I went for a bike ride to see if I could find my way to school on my own (the bike routes to school are way different than the streets). I found a good example of the difference between the population density (Bevölkerungsdichte, like in the title of the post) in Germany and America.

In Germany the landscape can go from something like...

...cows in a meadow...

...or crops in field...

...to inner city in a couple of kilometers (don't the buildings in Germany look so quaint?). Here there's not as much suburban sprawl as there is in America, at least from what I've seen. So, in Germany, it's more likely to be a densely populated city, a village, or farmland, whereas in America, there's a lot more suburban area. Anyway, tomorrow I'm going to bike to school. We'll see how that goes. Until next time...


At a Glance Comparisons: America and Germany

Hey everyone! I was just preparing something for the cultural studies class I teach and I thought it might be of interest. As always, please don't strain your eyes. Click anywhere on the picture for a bigger version.

Some of the most interesting numbers to note are the differences in size (America is 27.5 times as big as Germany) and population density (Germany is about 7.5 times as densely populated as America).

This map here compares GDPs of American states to GDPs of countries around the world. Instead of printing state names on the map, whoever made the map put names of countries with similar GDPs. Interesting for a little bit of perspective.



Hello hello! I just thought I'd stop by with another wonderful update. Recently for me it's been a lot of soccer, school, and socialization. I'm training with FSC Rheda, the local team here. The training in Germany is a little bit different and a little bit more strenuous than it is in America. I didn't have a huge soccer vocabulary when I got here but it's all coming along. At the very least I get to play good soccer with cool kids three times a week.

I was talking with one of the kids from the team about the money here, and he was telling me how hard it was when the Euro, the currency for 13 of the 27 countries in the European Union, was first introduced in 2002. Apparently you could exchange two Deutschmark for a Euro, but the prices stayed about the same. It was really hard on lots of people in the area.

Now the Euro a very strong currency, which is bad for exchange students like me. The going rate is 1 Euro to 1.36 US dollars. It's deceiving when you see a price somewhere and think it's a great deal, until you do a little bit of mental math. On top of that, Euro bills look like Monolopy money and Euro coins are really valuable, both of which I'm not used to. I think this makes me subconsciously undervalue money here. I've got to be careful...

That one little coin is worth just as much as the whole stack of coins back home.

That Monopoly money there is worth more than you think...

The only good news with money is that it's really easy to withdraw money here through Bank of America. With an account there I can withdraw Euros at any Deutsche Bank without fees. It also works with various banks in France, the UK, Mexico, Canada, etc. Really cool.

I could use a little bit of help with this last thing. I want to teach my English class some cool and funny slang phrases and words in English. I want to at least teach them some things they won't find in a textbook or a newspaper. Any ideas? School appropriate, please. Leave me a comment as soon as you've got an idea!