“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” -Neale Donald Walsch
I have always thought that this quote was inspirational, but now that I have lived and experienced it, it means so much more! As you can imagine, living in another country is an eye-opening experience. I was very excited, anxious (and a bit nervous), but looking forward to this experience. I am so thankful that my family and friends encouraged me right from the start, and have supported me throughout my entire time here!
I chose Germany because everyone I talked to about going abroad had nothing but wonderful things to say! I had no country that I absolutely had to go to, and I was a bit more indecisive than other student teachers I had met. So I wrote down “Germany” as my number one choice of countries, and I am so happy that I did. As my eleven week stay comes to an end (I only have 19 days left!) I find myself taking time to reflect and see just how much I have learned about myself, as a future educator, and as an overall person.
I’m not sure if you have ever traveled to anywhere (big or small) that you didn’t know a single person, couldn’t understand a single word being said around you, or had no idea how to get around, where to find food, where to get money, and a phone that no longer works… if you have I am sure you can relate to the feeling of being extremely overwhelmed. If you haven’t, I am sure you get that anxious feeling just thinking about being in that situation!
The biggest challenge for me was not being able to understand the language. Thankfully the majority of people in Berlin speak English. And if they don’t, they are able to speak German (or other languages) to find someone who does! I have been most surprised by how kind strangers can be. There have been many times that I was lost and/or confused, and kind people have asked to help or point me in the right direction (I can officially say I have mastered the look of confusion).
The biggest challenge for me was getting used to not being able to understand things happening around me, mainly not understanding what people are saying! It seems like just a “little thing,” but really I found it difficult to not be able to relate to even just simple everyday conversations happening around me. I felt a bit alone, unable to connect with people! However, it got easier. I am okay with not knowing what is being said around me, and having no clue what language people are speaking! I realized how much I took the basic skill of speaking and listening for granted when I arrived in Berlin, and I am definitely looking forward to hearing familiar words, and phrases, being said around me when I return!
The biggest challenge for me within the classroom had to be the pace and style of learning! I have become used to the fast paced, jam packed, structured curriculum and planning in Wisconsin. But when I walked into the classroom at BBS I was not sure what I was going to do. The most surprising thing about class time was the structure. Just because classes were scheduled to start and end at certain times, that doesn’t mean we have to abide by the schedule! It isn’t uncommon to end class with “loose ends” that are used to write the lesson plans for the next class! I found it difficult, I often questioned, “So how do I know what to plan? When do I plan?” The most common response was, “We plan day-by-day, depending on what information we have covered and where the learning takes us!”
Planning… day-by-day proved to be a little more difficult than I had anticipated. I would like to consider myself a pretty organized person. I like to have things planned, written, and prepared- usually a bit “ahead of time!” I had to take a breath and learn to plan at the end of the day. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, but began to find the balance of my time and planning- and I have gotten used to this method! I am happily going onto full-time teaching for my third week tomorrow, less stressed and more able to “think on the spot!”
Creativity… in many forms! I am most surprised at the ability of the teachers at BBS to integrate creativity and art with any subject they teach! The teachers teach all subject areas: Literacy, Maths, Art, ITC (computers), Science, Library, and the Unit of Inquiry. As I began planning I found myself often resorting back to the traditional worksheet and writing methods. Thankfully my cooperating teacher and Year 4 partner teacher helped me think “outside of the box.” I am no longer afraid to ask students to draw their interpretation of a reading, acting out a piece of poetry, or even learning a song to help us remember how to use contractions! It has been a fabulous learning experience not only for myself, but for the students. I have learned to create even better lesson plans that are engaging and interesting, just for my students!
Student collaboration and working together is not an uncommon sight in the classrooms throughout the BBS. At first, I was not sure what to think. I was wondering, “How much does the student understand by him/herself? How will I know? Is this “fair” for students to be sharing?” My eyes have been opened to the idea of collaboration and the importance that students learn to work together. It is not a matter of what you know, it is the process of thinking, sharing, and concluding. The students have very strong critical thinking skills, and work together so well. It is not always the answer that is important, but how you get to that answer!