January 28, 2011 by Anna Rapp
The new semester, my second one at William & Mary, started with some big changes that pretty much turned my world upside down. Last semester, I worked as a tutor and took a couple of classes. That was nice. I got to know lots of nice W&M students, learned many new things, and felt that I could somewhat comprehend American college life. I was one of the people swemming late at night, just to drag my tired body into class the next morning, barely able to keep my eyes open. Or, if it was not Swem, I would be up just as late, hanging out at the German House, chatting with friends, eating freshly made baked goods, or just hanging out with friends.
This semester, however, everything suddenly seems reversed. As of now, I am actually teaching my own 202 German class. It is not so much the teaching that confuses me, though. I think I have enough working experience to confidently teach a class. But the whole role reversal is somewhat intriguing. Suddenly, the students I used to be among see me as their professor. The first question I am being asked when I enter the classroom is no longer “Hey! How are you?”, but more often something like “So, when exactly is this paper due?” Also, as the language in question is German, they address me with the formal “sie” rather than the informal “du”, which also makes a huge difference. But the worst thing by far is a certain element of fear that I can sense in them whenever I speak to them in German. I keep telling myself that this is nothing personal, but rather them being overwhelmed (terrified?) by having a native speaker teach the class.I don’t know if I can actually believe that, though.
Funny enough, though, I ran into another professor this morning, who was bending over what seemed a ridiculous amount of notes and textbook. As it turned out, his world had been turned upside down, too. After having been a professor for a substantial amount of time, he was now actually taking a class in his own department. When I met him, he was cramming for a quiz, and flat out admitted that he was very anxious about it because he knew that everybody, he himself, his professor, and his fellow students, would be expecting him to perform extraordinarily well. Given my own situation, I found this rather ironic, as it seemed to be almost a reversal of my new role.
During the past week, I realized that it is probably not possible for me or him to turn our lives in those classrooms right side up again. But I do hope that my students will at some point learn that there is no reason to be terrified. I am still the same person. Only upside down.
December 27, 2010 by Anna Rapp
When I arrived in Williamsburg in August 2010, I thought life and work in such a small place would be kind of boring and that the semester would stretch like a rubber band. Now I am enjoying my winter break and realize that half of the time I am spending at William and Mary is already over, and it went by like the wind. I would never have expected so many new friends, so many fun things to do and such interesting new experiences at this small college in the middle of nowhere. The past semester was certainly intense and sometimes stressful, but I still don’t quite feel as if it is over already.
But, alas. Fall 2010 is over, Spring 2011 is about to come. I am very excited about the next couple of months, though. I am already thinking of fun activities to plan at the German house (anyone up for a Viennese ball?), and I am also excited about teaching my very own German 202 class. Adding a couple of conferences I am planning to attend and a couple of things I want to write, this next semester is very likely to pass as quickly as the last one. I am looking forward with mixed feelings knowing it’s like a roller coaster ride: unbelievably fast, fun, scary, overwhelming, and over before you even know it had started…
November 2, 2010 by Anna Rapp
Talk about stating the obvious. “It’s College.”
I have no idea how often I have heard this sentence ever since I first got here. And actually, it is not stating the obvious. As “it’s College” is used as an explanation for all kinds of weird stuff going on; a celebratory statement cherishing the joy of the moment; an excuse for behavior otherwise unacceptable in society. It’s a prayer and an instruction manual, a song and a love story, a mantra and a riddle. So whether it’s your roommate making chocolate chip cookies in a frying pan, a student sitting down on the table you are eating at, or a streaker running through the Sunken Gardens. “It’s College” and with that it all makes sense.
Coming from a country where going to college is not as much limited to a certain period of your life and where you would make sure to have friends, hobbies and a life off campus, the mentality of “it’s College!” still astonishes me. So does the fact that “it’s College” seems exclusive; college is what happens to you at a certain point of your life, yet isn’t real life. William and Mary students refer to themselves as college kids, not as college adults, college grown-ups or even college people. It is like a class trip going on for four whole years. And we all know that this is going to have its ups and downs. It is like you have been given the freedom to do whatever you want; all the craziness, intensity, and drama one could ever wish for! Yet at the same time I want to claim that you really need an outsider’s perspective and a bit more life experience to truly appreciate that. The typical gesture going along with “It’s College.” is a shrug and a smile, where it should be at least three pink exclamation points and jumping up and down: “It’s College!!!”
September 27, 2010 by Anna Rapp
Last week, the RAs of several language houses had the brilliant idea to organize a s’mores mixer.
I was a bit confused because for some reason the vocabulary section in my brain confused the English word “s’mores” with “smerfs”. So I could not quite wrap my head around the whole thing and kept thinking about some kind of blue juice that was to be consumed together. It did not really help that somebody told me that we would all meet in the BBQ area. Was this some kind a dark ritual? Blue juice and fire? Or, would it be my job to greatly break the truth about smerfs to these college kids? Namely that are not r e a l, and may therefore not be barbecued? And what kind of person would want to eat roasted smerf, anyway?
At some point, somebody mentioned marshmallows. At that moment I had decided to stop wondering and just go for it eventually. Or run from it, if worse came to worse. At least I know what marshmallows are, even though I have never really understood what you are supposed to do with them.
But then, Saturday afternoon, it all came to a good end. The s’mores turned out to be delicious and the smerfs were saved. It was a great experience.
September 23, 2010 by Anna Rapp
Part of the job of language house tutors is to offer classes or events that teach William and Mary students about the culture of countries where the language they study is spoken. We are supposed to plan two such activities in an average week. I usually have a movie night where we watch German films, and a traditional Kaffeeklatsch. That is a meeting with your friends and family in the afternoon where you have Kaffee (coffee) and Klatsch (gossip). I also serve traditional German cake to go with the Kaffee and the Klatsch.
For whatever weird reason, though, I decided to not only offer two cultural activities this week, but six. So the residents of the German House might be just a tiny bit stressed out right now.
Anyhow, yesterday, I taught my first German cooking class ever. Now, I know that Germany is not particularly famous for its cuisine, and I honestly do not know where all these people live who supposedly eat Schnitzel all the time.
So we made a fairly simple dish, which is called Flammkuchen. It is a very thin pizza topped with cream cheese, onions, bacon and cheese. It is called Flammkuchen (flame cake) because it is baked at a very high temperature for only a short period of time.
The name caused some confusion among the students though, and they kept being worried about the fire alarm. But, to everybody’s surprise (and perhaps disappointment), the fire department did not have to come as there were no real flames involved. What really surprised me, though, was how much everybody was suddenly into cooking and how exotic they found my recipe. People kept asking me if it was really okay to put the oven to 465 degrees and whether I was absolutely sure about putting two packs of cream cheese on one sheet of dough. Everybody felt they had to check the oven every two minutes to see how the Flammkuchen was coming along. I think they all liked the result in the end. They agreed that it tasted good, or at least so they said.
I for myself had a really great time. For the first time in six weeks or so, it was not me who was marveling at ‘weird’ food.
Here you can see the Flammkuchen in the making. It still needs to cook a little, though, until that bacon is just a little crunchier!
September 19, 2010 by Anna Rapp
Mondays are special. We all know that. To most of us, they are special without being endearing. Options on how to deal with that are limited. Few of us can afford to just sleep through the Monday (which would then make Tuesday the new Monday, anyway). Working the entire weekend just to alleviate the Monday effect is probably not going to be helpful, either. What I have been doing ever since I came to the US in order to make the most of my Mondays is to adopt a routine that allows for a slow start into the week.
So every Monday, I get up at around eight in the morning and start the week with a nice bike ride. I tour the nice spots of CW, explore some of the Williamsburg neighborhoods and just breathe in as much authentic American life as I can. The weather is always nice: sunny, but not too hot; the tourists have left to become normal citizens again, and by now I have found the perfect route for my weekly tour. It is almost too idyllic. Since I am doing this every Monday morning, I already know some of the people whom I usually meet on my little excursion. There’s the guy who lived in Germany 20 years ago and still tries to convince his wife to go back, there are two Chinese work and travelers who always wait for the bus to Busch Gardens, a middle-aged woman always taking her dog for a walk on DOG street. It’s almost like having a life outside campus.
After 20 minutes or so, I usually take a short break. I find a public place where I can go indoors to enjoy some AC and where I can sit down as long as I need to. Also, I usually meet more real American people there. They seem more than happy to tell me about the job they should be at, or about how they do not enjoy being there, yet keep coming back. I also have itsy-bitsy conversations with women in different windows about driving in the US. Sometimes, we discuss whether I need to re-take a driving test or not, why non-Americans were not born with an SSN automatically attached to their middle name, and why I cannot get an American driver’s license this time. Once, after raising my voice a tiny bit, I even got introduced to a person whose only concern it was for me to find the exit of the building as soon as possible (In fact, the building is neither very big nor particularly maze-like. I guess they just wanted to make sure that I would not get lost on the way out).
But usually, after two hours or so, I just ride my bike back to campus, vowing that I will continue trying to get an American driver’s license at the DMV the following Monday!
September 11, 2010 by Anna Rapp
If you are new to the US, what immediately strikes you is the abundance of sugar everywhere. It must be the new white gold.
The other day, I tried to buy a can of beans without added sugar. I spend about ten minutes reading the label of every brand and type of bean at the supermarket and ended up going home beanless. If it is not sugar, it is corn syrup, which is apparently the new gluten. Me and and my body are not used to this kind of unremitting sugar intake, so it is kind of obvious what is going to happen. On the bright side, it might include a lot of shopping trips for bigger clothes to all those great malls in and around Williamsburg. On the downside, it might mean that my friends over there might not recognize me once I get back.
So I decided to do what most W&M students do. After all, they are a pretty smart crowd and following their example is usually a good idea. Get some exercise! I went to the rec center and signed up for classes. So far, body pump has been quite an experience in many different ways. Basically, you are in a group lifting weights while the instructor (by default a really good-looking person who seems to lift all the weight of the world effortlessly and with a bright smile on their face) plays some catchy dance music and encourages you to keep going. So all in all, it seems to be quite a good concept and there’s always a really nice and motivating atmosphere that makes those 45 minutes go by very quickly.
Unfortunately, though, I am not exactly the athletic type.
Also, I might have studied foreign languages and literatures at university for a while, but the fields covering athleticism and sports were somehow never covered in class. This might change as soon as the first sports novel enters the canon, though. So let’s hope that at some point a talented writer will publish something along the lines of “Soccer Game Lost”, “Moby Kick” or “Racin’ in the Sun”. But I digress. What I am basically saying is that I am not only not sporty, but also unable to talk about sports. Or understand other people talking about sports in English.
So in my body pump class, I do not only stick out because of a complete lack of strength paired with the kind of clumsiness that is beyond not even cute anymore, I also stick out because of a certain inability to follow instructions. In a nutshell, it is a great opportunity for me to learn many different aspects of exercising in the US on both a physical and an intellectual level. At the same time, it is an accident waiting to happen. Until then, I keep being amazed by what I am learning. Apparently, you do not need to be a cowboy in order to walk like one if you have been to body pump. Also, I have experienced that “two by two” does not always equal four, but sometimes simply equals pain. And all this talk about “apps” (bless my German accent) does not need to involve smart phones. It can also result in your entire abdomen being sore.
But as I said: it is all a very interesting learning experience. I still wonder, how all the William and Mary students are doing it, though. I have never seen anyone of you walking like a cowboy. But maybe I am just not paying enough attention. So if you ever see me and happen to feel sore, just whisper the secret formula “Ich habe Muskelkater” into my ear. That’s German for “I feel sore”, or, to translate directly: “I have a muscle hang-over”.
September 5, 2010 by Anna Rapp
Imagine you are a Freshman, just about to start your first exciting semester at William and Mary. You are ready to meet new people, gain new insights and learn important lessons for life. Quite possibly, you are also likely to do insanely stupid things, embarrass yourself in front of people that will eventually become your best friends, and set off the fire alarm at least once at some point during your college career.
Now imagine you are said Freshman, but for some strange reason, you are trapped in the body of a teacher. To make it even worse: a German teacher. People will suddenly come up to you and expect you to know stuff. They assume that you have had college in your blood for decades, that you can answer all their questions about credit points, assignments and German grammar. As they walk behind you along the Sunken Gardens, they assume that you are entering Tucker Hall because that is exactly where you want to go (even if you are only hoping to find a campus map there that tells you where the Sadler Center is). When they happen to see you staring at the menu at Quiznos, they might assume that you forgot your glasses, even though you just keep scanning the menu for food you know.
If you can imagine what that would be like, you have a pretty good idea of what it is like to be a Language House Tutor at William and Mary.
We come from different countries all over the world and are here to teach students about our languages and cultures. Our jobs put us on the knowing side of things. Supposedly.
However, at the same time I – and possibly some of the other tutors as well – do not only experience the culture shock so typical for Non-Americans traveling to the US, but also something that I would like to call college shock. It is like starting college as a Freshman and skipping orientation. It involves asking questions like: “Why are the police always here – don’t they have to work?” or “So if this is my bathroom, where do all the others take their shower?” In my case, it also includes a feeling of awe whenever I see a shop that is opened after 10pm, an element of gratitude whenever somebody says “Guten Tag” to me, and a rising curiosity whenever I hear people talk about American Football. There are small moments of happiness when you have solved yet another one of William and Mary’s mysteries, for example understanding that the “caf” is in fact the cafeteria (and not the “cough”, the appropriate name for the student health center), and that you do not have to fly to China if you are asked to come to the PRC.
It is confusing, fascinating and sometimes irritating. It is many more dumb questions lurking, plenty of confused looks about to be given, and an incomprehensible amount of embarrassing situations waiting to come up. It is intense, challenging and a lot of fun.
I’ll keep you posted.