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So, a few people asked if I wanted to write a bit about my studies in Germany. All comparsions will be to the Swedish university system, which I shall simply except you to know. If for some reason someone who isn't a Swedish student has questions, do ask and I shall do my best to answer

Since I currently possess the IQ of a mashed potatoe (Tuesday is the Long Lecture Day) you'll get it in chronological order, because everything else would be too complicated.

I should perhaps also point out, that this term, I have mostly taken classes in literature history; that is, thematic studies. They looked more interesting and since it's still not 100% certain that I can remain next term, I'd rather do these here and the pure literary analysis classes (which I'll need for my bachelor) in Sweden.


1) We've got LOADS more class hours at Humboldt than I've had in any humanities class in Sweden. Theoretically, I currently take 31 ECTS credits and have 24 class hours / week. This isn't quite true: One of the classes is 2 h every second week, one of the classes is 3 hours long because it ends by Christmas (instead of end of february, when the term ends) and one of the classes is 4 hours a week, because we're gonna watch a bunch of movies. Out of 20 seminars, maybe 10 will contain a movie, and the rest will only be 2 h long.
Add to that, that the academic hour is actually 40 minutes long, and it's not quite as insane as it sounds - but it's plenty more than I'm used to.

This has both good and bad sides; there's less info you have to read on your own = good for me, because my study discipline, alas, has never been the best. I get much more information directly from the teacher, and more interaction with them too, which means that they "keep an eye" on us to actually read the stuff. On the downside, there's school most days of the week and they can be really long too; classes are spread out between 08.00-19.00 afaik, I heard that some poor bastards can have an hour longer even.

2) Much more value is placed on interaction and discussion in the classroom. I've got three types of classes: Lectures, where the teacher talks and the students listen. Seminars, where the teacher opens a discussion on a text that we're (supposed to have) read. One must also, pretty much, make one presentation for each seminar; basically, read one text extra carefully, then prepare questions and discussion topics for it and talk about it on a given date. I also have one "Tutorium", a tutorial, which I've only had the intro for so I don't really know what we'll do, but it seems to be a no-credits giving practical training.

3)At this university, you put together your timeplan all on your own. It's not like in Sweden, where they basically hand you a plan at the first day of school and your choices are limited to (maybe) one small course in a special area, or whether you want to be in the early or late small group seminars.

At my faculty (Philosophische Fakultet II, where I study German Lit), there is the added complication that all lessons are connected in moduls. One modul is typically (on my level, at least) 1 lecture series + 1-2 seminars, which you must then pick and preferably work into the timeplan without ending up with three things at once.

Since I'm just an exchange student, I could basically pick and choose among what looked interesting, but for the German students, certain modules are neccessary and must be taken in certain order etc. and it can get pretty complicated. My language tandem partner told me that Humboldt also has some deal with teachers in the area, who are allowed to come to the university on Tuesdays to listen to lectures and, well, keep up in their area. Great idea, except it means that two modules that she needed to take as well as one module that she really wanted to take all had their lecture at the same time Tuesday afternoon, since the university gets extra money for the visiting teachers. Not optimal.

If anything, the setup reminds me a bit of my gymnasium years, only here all my different classes are in one way or anyther related to German and/or Literature. Gymnasium on Steroids, so to speak.

The names of my modules, btw, are "(German) Literature History III (1800-today)", "ERASMUS Module Literary History I, II, III" (though all my seminars are modern-ish, ehehehe) and "Text- and Media Analysis". I've also got an extra class that falls under Kulturwissenschaft (Cultural Studies?), but I'll get to that later.

Monday: German-language lyric / Crime and Literature / Franz Kafka

I've got my ERASMUS module on Mondays. (ERASMUS = The inter-European Union exchange program, which I'm traveling with). They're sliiightly easier than the regular moduls, but it's mostly in how the test will be set up, as well as the fact that the teacher speaks a bit slower to us poor foreigners.

The only reason I'm in an ERASMUS module is because it was the only way to have a Kafka seminar (for some reason, the regular Kafka seminar was cancelled this term) and that was not something I wanted to miss. Then I just picked the most interesting/least boring looking classes to fill out the module.

But, since I know nada about poetry in any language, a seminar class that is essentially An introduction to German poetry 1955-1980 (for exchange students) is actually really useful to me. We'll go through one poet each week, all the texts are collected in a compendium (which they for some reason call a "Reader" in German, which totally confused me at first).

The teacher informs us the week ahead which 2-3 poems we need to do a close reading of, one or two people do a bit of extra research about the poet and their historical context etc. for each class and present that at the beginning. Then we pick apart the poems and discuss them. For some, there's an extra text, a interpretation of a famous poem, an essay about that weeks poet or similar. So far, I don't think it'll be too difficult it's a good way for a n00b like me to get a bit of grounding in modern German poetry. The teacher is also really nice and I think I'll like it.

The lecture series Crime and Literature started a bit late, so I've only had one class and I'm, hm, not completely convinced. The topic is interesting, the reading list looks good, but I thought that the lecturer talked too aimlessly and loosely about the topic. However, I was also very tired and almost all the opening classes where kind of aimless (in some cases, really pointless) so I'll give it another chance. No problem to grasp what he's saying at least

My second ERASMUS seminar series is then, of course, the Franz Kafka class. Great author, interesting texts, I was so excited about it - aaaand the teacher seems to be a bit of a bore :/ So far, we've had two classes, where we've discussed such questions such as "What is literature?" and "What is science?" and spent way, way to little time on actually working through the text. I'm gonna stick to it, of course, but if it doesn't get better I shall be sadly disappointed.

The room we're in is also really dumb, so long and narrow that we can barely see each other, despite the fact that there's about 16 students altogether in the class.

Oh well, at least the texts are good and hopefully we'll focus a bit better on what we're supposed to do once people relax and start talking more?

My Monday classes, btw, are 10-12, 12-14 and 16-18. Yeah, that's one short lunch break between 11.45-12.15. Thank goodness that they use cum tempore system, which gives you an extra 15 minutes

Tuesday: Literature & Photography / Lost Illusions

Tuesday morning I have one of my media seminars: Literature and Photography. This way of having a theme, which crosses over several creators, epochs and in this case, types of media, seems to be a local speciality (local here meaning either Germany or Berlin or just Humboldt, I'm really not in position to tell).
For instance, one of my friends here, who's at the Masters level, has a class which is a study on the theme of walking in literature.

Anyway, since one spends approx. 2 hours a week during the entire term (October to February, with exams in March) on this theme, there's time to go deeper into each work or thematic than in Sweden, I think. Since I haven't actually done literature at C-level at home, I can't compare exactly, but I managed to dig up the schedule for this term, and it seems as if the thematic study is only about two months long (and contains Norén, can you even guess how happy I am that I get to study Kafka and cyborgs instead? =D Yep, exactly)

What are Tuesdays all about then?

In Lit & Photo, which is an interesting class with a good teacher, though we're a bit too many students for the size of the room, we've so far gone through photography theory. Today was Susan Sontag whom baffled me with her beautiful language and glittering thoughts when I read On Photography. I've still got some five pages left, but except a proper post on that one soonish.

Anyway, there's one more theory session left, then we'll bring photos to class and discuss, and after that we'll do literary works that deal with photography. It's interesting and everyone's got so much smart things to say omg that I have a total complex every time I open my mouth but I still do it cause I'm stubborn dammit) and rewarding. We also got all the texts in a kompendium here (cost: 10 euro for two REALLY thick ones) saving me what looked like endless hours spent in the library, cause the reading list is pretty heavy.

I think I'll have a bit of a trouble to keep up with the neccessary reading in this class, actually, but I've been ensured from multiple sources that if you miss out one the reading for one/some weeks, it's okay, as long as you: don't fudge up your presentation, open your mouth a couple of times at least and get a good grade on the exam. But I'm not studying just to get good grades, so I'll try to at least skim all the texts :)

Then I have a four hour break, which I should really start to use to study a bit more. Last week I drank coffee all the time, this week I ran to the post office to pick up a package and then, eh, ate and drank coffee.

Because late in the afternoon starts Lost Illusions: A cultural history of German nationalism, which is THE lecture for me.

It's the most interesting, the most difficult and the bloody longest (three hours! With a measly fifteen minutes break in the middle and it's scheduled between 16.00-18.45, gah). I really like the topic and the lecturer is also quite good, but he does nothing but talk. Hasn't written a single word on the blackboard, uses no PowerPoints course, he's so old that we (lovingly!) call him Nosferatu and hardly seems to need to take a breath between sentences...

I survive it by taking a massive amount of notes on my computer - oh, how I love thee, internetgeeky typing speed - eating a lot of snacks, giggling with my classmate whenever one of the German names sound funny (when you're low on blood sugar, von Fallersleben sounds remarkably like German for "from Phalloslife") and reminding myself that Tuesdays are the dedicated take-out evening.
Today we made it a bit extra fancy with delicious sushi, but even the knowledge that you get to eat a döner kebab with good conscience (cause it was a planned döner, y'know) is good for the motivation.

It helps that the professor hardly says one unnecessary word, that the topic is interesting, that his lecture is well-structured (though a PowerPoint with names and years would be love) and that he mixes facts with his own views in such a way that I always know when he's citing someone, stating a plain fact (this army lost that war) and pushing his own - not quite uncontroversial! - ideas. It helps my concentration when I can agree/disagree with what is said, as opposed to when it's just a heap'o'facts which don't really mean anything in themselves (I mean, you can put them together and think about them later and then they'll mean something, but it's easy to get distracted during such lectures).

Aaaand because this post is already massive, I think I'll cut there. Wednesdas to Fridays aren't that heavy anyway, but I'll try to scribble them down later in the week :) Have got some interesting classes there too!
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May 2012

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