Friday, November 2, 2007

Time is Like a Suitcase...I Pack to Fit!

***This is absolutely amazing and must be shared! THE ARNOLD APPLE: This is a Styrian Power Apple. From "the homeland of Arnold Schwarzenegger", this apple offers incomparable strength and taste..."Lovingly tended by skilled and dedicated fruit growers in their small and medium-sized orchards it is a rich natural source of health, strenth and flavor"!! At the ridiculous price of €1 per apple, it was totally worth it!!

The amazing thing about my time in Austria is, well, how much of it I have. Only working 3 days/12 hours a week, this gives me quite a bit of free time. I'm often asked what I do with all of my free time, and I never seem to have a suitable answer. But I'm rarely bored. So in order to let you in on my secret of how to stay busy enough that I don't go absolutely crazy, I will take you through my week and dedicate this blog posting to that wonderful and malleable concept of time.


Let's start with the first day of the week and move on from there. Sundays in Austria are wonderful things. They're also quite a change in pace from my Sundays in New York! In New York, I would typically get up around 10 or 11 on a Sunday, loll around in my PJ's for awhile, meet up with friends for brunch, and then either stay home or go into the city until church started at 5 or 7 pm. Here, it's pretty much the opposite.

I wake up around 8 am on Sunday and get ready to go into church. It was surprisingly easy to get back into the swing of morning church, and getting up at 8 am is already like sleeping in for me! I'm going to the same church I went to when I was studying abroad in Graz--the Pfingstgemeinde, the pentecostal church. Those of you who are familiar with my staid presbyterian background may be raising your eyebrows and the thought of me in a "charismatic" church; while some of it certainly is new to me, I have to say that I felt at home from the first time I visited. Back in 2003 when I first visited the church, my German was still a work in progress, but somehow I was able to understand every word of my first sermon. The people were friendly and ranged in age from 2 months to 92 years, and I immediately felt at home. It was fun to show up at the Pfingstgemeinde a few weeks ago and see all of those familiar faces...and even more fun to see those familiar faces light up with recognition when they had no idea I was back in Austria! I've also joined a small group of students and younger working people that meets on Wednesday nights, with a surprising number (the majority, actually) of internationals.

Sundays are probably the best days for my German. I start speaking and hearing only German from morning till night, and Sundays are consequently my "on" days. So much so, in fact, that my first Sunday there I was mistaken for someone from Graz! As high and wonderful a compliment as that was, it set the standard wayyyy too high, so it can really only get worse from there! It totally made my day though. After church, I usually end up eating lunch with a group of people--either going out to a restaurant (cheap China buffet for €3,88 anyone??) or someone's home for lunch. After eating a warm and satisfying meal, we'll usually take a walk...and then suddenly it's Sunday evening already! For me, this is the ideal way to spend a Sunday...and since I don't work on Mondays, there's no pressure to get home and start getting ready for work!


Mondays are usually spent in preparation for Tuesday's lessons. It is on Monday that I start panicking about not having prepared a lesson plan sooner, and why did I wait until the last minute AGAIN, and what in the world am I going to teach on this week?! Since my only guidelines are to share American culture and to get the students to speak in English, I can basically do anything I want. One Monday I brainstormed a long list of topics that I think will last me through the year. So now I can just go to that list, figure out what I want to talk about, and start preparing a lesson. But this is where the time/suitcase analogy really comes into play. I can begin preparing a lesson at 10 am on a Monday and not finish it until midnight (i.e., like last Monday). Or, I can begin working on a lesson at 6 pm and not finish it until midnight. Since I have an infinite number of resources and activities at my fingertips (what did teachers do before the internet?!), I can spend hours and hours trying to find the perfect resources for the lesson and trying to organize the class to fit perfectly into a 50-minute time frame. At some point, I'm learning, I just have to call it quits and go with what I have. However, I must say, my lesson plans are still totally rockin'.

Tuesday and Wednesday

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays I teach. Waking up at 6 am puts me in a good spot for a nap after I get home, around 2:30 or 3. I always tell myself that it won't be necessary to set the alarm, and then I always amaze myself that it's suddenly 5 or 6 and I still can't drag myself out of bed. I may meet up with friends in the late afternoon or evening, and usually I end up tweaking the lesson again. I keep telling myself that the afternoons after class are a good time to catch up on emails and letter-writing (again, sorry to those who are still waiting for a reply!) but usually I'm too tired to get around to the things I've been meaning to get around to. It's a cop-out answer, but I'm usually so tired from getting up early on Tuesdays and Wednesdays that I'm not good for much the rest of the day. My sudden need for sleep makes me feel like an old lady already, but I'm ok with that...


Thursday I'm off again. This is the day I'll try to meet up with friends, go into the city, and enjoy the weather if it's nice. I can run errands like grocery shopping or going to the post office, and generally my room will need cleaning about this time too. Thursdays, ideally, are my "people days"--the days I'd like to have lunch/coffee/etc with the friends I've been trying to catch up with during the week.


Fridays I work, but then the weekend begins. Oftentimes there is some cool activity happening after work (some sort of festival, a visit to a chocolate factory perhaps, maybe lunch somewhere), and I forfeit my afternoon nap. I'm also looking into dancing lessons in anticipation of the upcoming ball season ("ball" as in Cinderella-lost-her-slipper-at-a-ball kind of ball!!) and these lessons will most likely fall on a Friday. Another great day for catching up with friends, Fridays are usually spent out and about. I could (and do, sometimes) wander about aimlessly in Graz for hours (aren't predestrian-friendly European cities great?!), which is an activity I somehow never seem to tire of. It's beautiful, it's interesting, it's historical, there are infinite cafes to wander into, there are woods and hills to climb...the possibilities are endless!


Saturday is ripe with opportunities. If I go away for the weekend, it's the starting point for a weekend excursion. It's a great day for a Buschenschank, for example. Or a trip up to the mountains. Or... You get the point.

So although I can't exactly pinpoint how I spend my time, it is time well-spent. And it's definitely of the pack-to-fit philosophy...I have some other goals and activities for the year, and I'll just slip them nicely into the cracks.

And I leave you with a few more interesting anecdotes from school...

  • In one of my earlier blog entries, I described the lesson plan about the controversial concert. The students were given a roll play in which they held a town meeting to decide whether the controversial band should be allowed to play in Weiz, and each student had a particular opinion on the subject. In one group I was observing, the town mayor was describing how he was in favor of the concert because of the business it would bring in and the people it would draw from the surrounding areas. He explained, "I want the band to come to Weiz because it will bring more terrorism..." There was dead silence, and then his group (and I [on the inside]) started to laugh hysterically. Realizing his mistake, he quickly added, "Uh, TOURISM! I mean tourism!"
  • In another lesson on money and how Americans spend their money, I passed around some dollars and coins, and then we looked at a pie graph where the students had to guess what percentage of the American income is spent on which expenses (housing, recreation, food, transportation, etc.). After this exercise, they were given a text on how Americans actually use their money--things such as, 54% of Americans use coins as makeshift screwdrivers, 7% use them to even out table legs, etc. When going through the new vocab, none of the students knew the word "makeshift". But I found a fantastic resource in television, because they ALL knew of MacGyver, and so they were all able to understand the term "makeshift" when I gave them MacGyver (the king of makeshift!) as an example!
  • This week I walked into a classroom after the break, and there was a student with a can of tobacco out on his desk, rolling his own cigarettes in class! I just stared at him, amazed at his (talent and) nerve. We were about to leave for an excursion anyway, but it amazed me that the teacher didn't say a thing!
  • This week I got found out. Officially, I know no German. This is what the teachers want me to tell the students, so that they don't get lazy and think that they can start speaking in German or that I'll translate words for them. However, I always speak with the teachers in German, and sometimes they'll speak to me in the hallways and other places where the students are likely to overhear. I've often wondered why they do that if I'm not supposed to understand a word of German... A couple of weeks ago, I got to chaperone a field trip to see "The Bourne Ultimatum" in English. (Not bad, huh?!) There, they spoke to me in German again, but they kids were so rowdy they didn't seem to hear. This week there was a school outing to see a film on drug abuse, and again the teachers were speaking German to me. But this time, there was a kid from one of my classes sitting two seats down, and apparently he was listening in on the conversation. When I got to class yesterday, he announced, "Rebecca lied to us!" Not being the first time this class thought I'd lied to them--apparently they thought that Honor Codes in American schools were also a lie to scare Austrian pupils into not cheating--the teacher asked him why he thought that. "Because I heard her speaking to Mr. So-and-So. She speaks perfect German!" I was forewarned before I got to class, but during their groupwork this kid approached me, asking if I can speak German. I skirted around his question ("What makes you think that?") but he insisted that he's heard me speaking perfect German and that now everybody knows because he told them. I think that was supposed to me some sort of threat, but it had me laughing on the inside! But I just avoided the question, asking if he had a relevant question and that I could answer any questions for him on the topic at hand. ...I'm such a bad liar!...

P.S. Stay tuned to Flickr for some pictures of the amazing fall colors! It's kitchy, but I have to say it...the hills are alive! :)


Sam said...

LOVE the apple. I think I'll include it in my post, too.

the octopus said...

about the cigarette rolling - it's legal to smoke over... ugh, 16 i think. and rolling a cigarette at that age is ok, and since only smoking is forbidden, i guess rolling would be ok in a classroom...
so that wouldnt really be that weird to me... i can see your confusion tho!

- angie :)

Bruce said...

On being caught, I was smiling bigtime (now there's a word for your students!). I love the whole story! DAD

Caitlin said...

can you believe we are the same people who used to live in new york city? i certainly don't. in new york i would have been so stressed and busy i would have rushed right passed the arnold apple! what a travesty.