Life is definitely starting to stabilize. On Tuesday we began our intensive language course (sprachkurs). Now every Monday through Thursday we will be receiving language instruction for four hours a day. Yikes! But I know the course will be incredibly helpful as far as gaining fluency in the language, and thus far I have found it to be quite enjoyable. The course level I was placed in is perfect for my abilities, and I can already tell my German competency is improving.
It is getting disorienting moving between German and English, though. I’d like to begin to speak more exclusively in German, even with my fellow international students, but that’s not really possible with all of them because they have varying levels of German experience. So, English can’t be eliminated completely, but I hope I can begin to rely on it less and less.
I’m excited for some of the opportunities we have as part of the course. We will be meeting this Friday for a night out in Marburg’s bars, going for a hike to a 19th-century Prussian watchtower on Sunday, and making a group trip to Wiesbaden (the capital of Hessen) next week. So although I am becoming more settled here, the opportunities for exploration are still far from over.
Assorted observations about life in Germany
Water Fountains: They don’t exist. Period. I have yet to see one here. I mean, I’m sure they exist SOMEWHERE, but they are nowhere near as prevalent as they are in the United States. This seems particularly strange to me, because it seems that water fountains have a wide appeal – why wouldn’t people want immediately accessible, free water? When I pose this question to Germans, they say you can just drink from a bathroom faucet if you really don’t want to buy water. And while I realize the water coming out of the faucet is probably just as good as what you might get out of a water fountain, that still just doesn’t seem like a satisfying answer.
Side note – I have also had an incredibly hard time finding a replacement water bottle here, such as a steel/aluminum bottle or a plastic nalgene. People just don’t use those here – they either buy a new bottle of water or reuse and old plastic bottle.
Recycling: In a display of true German precision, recycling is a big deal here. When trying to dispose of an item, it’s common to be confronted with several bins, each intended only for certain items – single-stream recycling is apparently not en vogue here. There are bins for paper, plastics, garbage, green glass, brown glass, clear glass… they’re into their recycling here. I think I am supposes to sort my own trash in my dorm room. We’ll see how that goes.
Cigarettes: Smoking is far more prevalent here than it is in the United States. There are areas inside the university’s union building and cafeterias for smokers, and it’s impossible to go out to a bar and not come back reeking of smoke. They also have cigarette dispensers throughout the city streets, which I think is very strange, specifically because it means ANYONE with money can buy them – even children.
University perks: There are a lot of things the other American students and I have become accustomed to at our home universities in the United States that are simply not the case here. One obvious example – internet access. Only some of the dorms here have internet access (and I think when they do it’s just through an Ethernet cable, not wireless) and I am not in one of those dorms. So if I want free wireless access, I have to take a bus down to one of the university buildings, a 15 to 20 minute ride. Except then, I am limited by the hours the building is open – on weekdays, the union is open until 8 p.m.; on weekends, its hours are severely limited (the library is at least open until midnight every night, although it is a bit farther out than the union). Back at Marquette, all dorms and university apartment buildings are wired, and many of our academic buildings are open until midnight (our library is open 24/7). Many (although not all) American universities offer free gym memberships, but here in Marburg that would cost 80 euros a month.
But there is a critical flipside to this, and that is the cost of tuition. We get a lot of perks at our universities in the United States, but, compared to German universities (and most other European systems), we pay dearly for it. German students pay about 500 euros a year in tuition (though they don’t even refer to it as such; it is paid as semester fees). Compare that to the $10,000 a year (with scholarships) I am paying to go to Marquette.
We (the Americans) complain a lot about everything we’re used to that our university here in Marburg just doesn’t provide, but I don’t think I’m too far off when I say there are probably a lot of American students who would gladly forego all the conveniences of their American education if they could simply graduate college without tens of thousands of dollars of debt.