Thursday, November 17, 2005

School Days

My mentor is teaching a class at the Free University of Berlin on the Middle East conflict and invited me to come along. Tonight was the second class. Every aspect of the experience fascinates me!

First of all the seminar is listed as being held from 6-8pm. When I saw that I was impressed that class was 2 hours long—hardy Germans! But German universities have what they call the “academic quarter-hour,” which means the class starts 15 minutes after the listed time and end 15 minutes before schedule. No one has yet explained to me exactly why this is. I am seriously considering living my life by the academic quarter hour☺

The inside of the building reminds me of my high school with long wide hallways that form a maze for you to navigate. There are posters hanging everywhere, much like at GW. And the students chain smoke in the halls, which is not like any US building ANYWHERE. The classroom itself reminds me a lot of middle-sized classrooms at GW—tables for two and blackboards that slide up and down.

The format of the class is interesting to me as well. Any student who needs the class for his/her degree has to make a presentation. 2-3 students present per class. While I know that some classes are presentation-heavy in the US, I am surprised that professor doesn’t give at least a small lecture each class. He is really there to guide the disucssion more than anything else. Students like to debate (a lot) and they don’t seem to be as afraid to speak up and give the wrong answer as students did in my college classes.

Finally, one note on the content of tonight’s class… tonight’s topic was the Middle East crisis from 1956-1967 (two wars worth for anyone not up on Middle East history.) As I sat listening to the students debate what “the superpowers” did and did not do, I was struck by the fact that they were discussing, me, my country. In my history classes we always discussed “we,” what “we” as America did during crisis X or conflict Y. Rarely do you sit in a history class in the States where the US does not play a fairly central role. But there was no “we” Germany in tonight’s discussion.

I’m not at all saying Germany had a reason to be involved. Rather tonight was yet another moment in my whole Germany experience when something I have always taken as the norm and the way all people look at a situation was shattered (like toilets and store closing hours, but those are topics for another day☺)


At 5:43 PM, Anonymous michael said...

The "we" is also a central element of history class at school in Germany (I don't yet know anything about universities).

I have so often thought "Yeah, and what's about the rest of the world?" in the last years. Maybe, if the teacher is in a good mood we also discuss a little bit about "the rest of the world", but that was never part of the official things we should be taught. One exception: we talked a lot about France (and hardly never about Germany) when it came to absolutism in Europe and the revolution of 1789.

At 2:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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