Friday, September 30, 2016

Day 14: I like it when my ice cream looks like spaghetti

Hi readers! I'm writing this blog post from back in my room in my apartment in Wien. I've just returned via ÖBB regional rail from the USTA orientation in the adorable town of St. Pölten, and I begin teaching this coming week. About 140-ish American teaching assistants and British Council teaching assistants spent the week in a youth hostel in St. Pölten, eating meals together, living in double and single rooms with one another, and getting a pretty intense crash course in developing and implementing lesson plans as well as navigating the Austrian school system. But first: after a brief introductory lecture in the main meeting room, we teaching assistants took part in a ninety-minute workshop on traditional Austrian dance, complete with teachers in the appropriately traditional Austrian garb. It was definitely an... interesting bonding experience to have with people we hardly knew, especially because a lot of Austrian dancing requires partnering, so we all held hands with lots of strangers and laughed at ourselves the whole time.

The USTA orientation itself was definitely more intense in a variety of ways than the Fulbright Austria orientation: it required a lot more input from us and less simple listening to lectures. Based on the kinds of schools we are working in, we were all placed into various groups that met for much of the day on Tuesday and Wednesday. I am working in what is called a "Höhere Technische Lehranstalt," (hu-ruh teck-nish-uh lair-ahn-shtalt) which is essentially what Austrians call vocational training institutions; other teaching assistants are working in a "Gymnasium" (gim-nah-si-um), which is basically a college preparatory high school, or a "Pädagogische Hochschule" (peh-da-go-gish-uh hokh-shu-luh) which trains future teachers. The different kinds of schools are important to know, as the students in them are expected to have different levels of English, depending on what kind of careers they intend to pursue. 
There was a really peaceful park near the hostel. If I'd been diligent (and not required to wake up before seven in the morning) I might have actually exercised here.

The culmination of the training involved us breaking up into smaller groups of between two and five and creating a specific sample lesson plan on Wednesday, which we would then deliver in a local school on Thursday. I worked with two USTAs, and together we came up with a lesson on the American higher education model, since each of us had gone to a different type of American college: I went to a small liberal arts college; another one of us had gone to a medium-size university; and the last member of our trio went to a military academy, so we would all have vastly different experiences to relate to the students. However, when we ended up in front of the students come Thursday morning, we mainly ended up fielding questions from them about the United States, serving as their personal founts of American culture (meaning a good bit of time was spent discussing Donald Trump, of course). So while we were a bit over-prepared for our practice lesson, ultimately it was useful in that I really had to check myself as a speaker--to make sure I was speaking clearly, not too quickly, and not introducing too many foreign concepts so that the students could understand what I was trying to say.

In the afternoons, we were led on tours: first of the town of St. Pölten itself on Tuesday, then around the government buildings on Thursday. While the town itself is charmingly old-fashioned architecturally, I was surprised to find that most of the shops were actually chain stores I'd seen earlier in Vienna: Drei cell phone retailers, dm convenience stores, Thalia bookstores, et cetera. The government buildings are much more sleek and modern, and have a rather spectacular view of the Traisen river.
Amazing chocolate shop in the town. Yes, that is a chocolate drill, and a chocolate trophy, and a chocolate tool set...

If I had a view this nice, I probably wouldn't get much work done.

Evenings and meals were spent with various other teaching assistants--fellow Fulbright combined grantees, USTAs, and those from British Council. Even though I've been to parts of the United Kingdom before, it's always fun to talk about the differences in American and British cultures with Scots and Brits over breakfast, because there really are so many different ways we use words or conceive of different concepts. While roaming the cobblestone streets of St. Pölten in the evenings with fellow Fulbrighters and TAs after training sessions, I tasted my first "Hugo" (oo-goh) cocktail for the first time. It was light and sweet and fruity and utterly delicious, even though it was carbonated. I also tried a strangely wonderful German dessert called "Spaghetti Eis" (shpa-getti ice) which is basically what it sounds like: ice cream made to look like spaghetti, complete with strawberry sauce subbing for tomato and coconut flakes subbing for Parmesan cheese. I'd seen pictures of Spaghetti Eis in Vienna, but hadn't actually gotten around to trying it yet, since there was just too much hazelnut gelato to eat. But since there was a place in St. Pölten that served this treat, I figured "why not?"
Honestly, it was actually a bit too sweet for me. I'm not the biggest fan of strawberry syrup, but it was more for the novelty of eating ice cream that looked like spaghetti. Worth it!

My teaching schedule begins on Wednesday, and so does my university course. I'm more nervous for the teaching than the studying, of course, but since it seems like I will have a good bit of freedom to pick what kinds of American culture I talk to my students about, I'm not actually that stressed--if I had to remember my high school grammar lessons (shout out to Charlie Holmes, my ninth grade English teacher!), that'd be quite another story, however. It's a lot of power to have--to be able to be both source and filter of information about the United States for Austrian high schoolers, which is honestly kind of intimidating... but I'm also excited to be able to talk about where I come from, so I am confident it'll be an overall positive experience.

Stray observations/thoughts:
  • Trains here run on time, all the time, and it's amazing.
  • Vienna has a lot of different kinds of coffee, so when you order one in a cafe here, you need to be specific. I personally recommend the "Melange" (meh-lonj-uh), which is like a cappuccino but better, somehow?
  • I need to learn how to wake up early again because Austrian high schools can start as early as 7:50 in some cases. College ruined me in that regard...
  • So far, both Vienna and St. Pölten have been pretty great about having city-wide, public wi-fi. I wonder if that's specific to Austria, or if Europe on the whole is better about providing wi-fi than the U.S. is? Only traveling will solve this puzzle...
(As always, if you want to express your love for me with material goods, my Amazon wishlist is here, and if you want to see many, many photographs of me and of Vienna, my Instagram is here.)

1 comment:

  1. What does USTA stand for? The only USTA known to your family is the United States Tennis Association.