The ETA Side of Me

Uni PassauHere’s an extra post for the week that I promised a month ago. I’ll post an extra one to make up for Herbstferien (Fall Break), which will be a wonderful treat for myself because I’m going to allow myself to indulge in my love for Bavaria. My justifications? I did spend a little over a week in my favorite German state and relived some moments of familiar regional differences that I somehow forgot about. It’ll be a culturally significant blog post, I promise!

I continually forget that there is a possibility of people reading this blog who may or may not understand what an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Germany does or where I actually work. I’ve already touched upon this topic a few times in my previous posts, but I’ll go into heavier detail about my school assignment, which will help you all understand the environment I work in.

(The picture above: the university’s campus in Passau. Named the most beautiful campus in Germany, which I wholeheartedly agree with.)

Before I delve any further, general information about Fulbright can be found here. I would rather not write a novel about the mission statement, founding, etc. If any of you are interested and curious about what Fulbright’s all about, please do click on the link I’ve provided!

Every Fulbright fellowship/grant has slightly different requirements that essentially means different experiences for every Fulbrighter dependent upon his/her country of assignment. Take for example an ETA in Germany versus South Korea. Fulbright Germany requires that all Fulbrighters have an intermediate level of German but Fulbright South Korea does not require its Fulbrighters to have any former instruction in Korean. Despite the different cultural background of both countries, a Fulbrighter with limited language skills compared to another, who has almost mastered the language will have a very different understanding of the culture and people.

We are all bound by the same underlying goal: to cultivate cultural understanding between our respective schools/contacts and ourselves. I’ve already mentioned this in a previous post so I’ll keep it short. As an ETA in Germany, I do this through helping the English classes at my assigned school. More specifically, I personally do this through mediating the English discussions in the upper-level classes and plain ol’ contact with the students. Even though Berlin is an international city, I am most likely the only familiar American face/contact for many of the students, especially the younger ones.

My school assignment has been absolutely amazing. I’m an ETA at the Staatliche Ballettschule und Schule für Artistik, which is a public school that offers ballet and acrobatic training for students. The school offers grades 5-13, but students can apply and enter the school at different grade levels every year. There are international students at the school, but many of them (at least the students I’ve met) speak German fluently. Many international students are from Russia or countries that were a part of the former USSR. The school structure is an interesting one because it’s an alternative school in the public school school system. Here’s the break-down in terms of how I understood it:

Grades 5-6: Elementary School

Grades 7-10: Realschule (Realschule is traditionally a high school for students who don’t want to go to university but enter vocational training. Realschulen are actually being phased out throughout Germany in order to allow equal opportunities for students because the German school system can be quite segregating. This also includes phasing out the Hauptschule from the current German model. Hauptschule is another type of German high school where students also enter vocational training instead of university but these students are literally placed at the bottom of the system. Many of these students have an immigrant family background and ironically and unfortunately, many speak very little German. I honestly have no idea why my school has designated grade levels 7-10 as Realschule, but my guess is that the students in this tier are in a transition period that easily translates for this category to be a sort of Realschule. The students are still taking theory classes i.e. biology and have practices during the afternoons and evenings for ballet or acrobatics.)

(Option 1) Grades 11-13: Berufsfachschule (Berufsfachschule is one of two options the students can choose. This type of school means that the students are choosing to go into ballet or the acrobatic arts on the vocational track. They graduate with a certificate at the end of their schooling with a degree in their respective field. There is less emphasis on the theory classes for these students, which means that they can focus most of their time and energy on training rather than theory classes i.e. English.)

(Option 2) Grades 11-13: Gymnasium (Gymnasium is traditionally the high school that German students attend if they want to be on the university track. Gymnasien are also being phased out throughout Germany for the same reason as the Realschulen and Hauptschulen. The students at my school who choose the Gymnasium track will take rigorous exams at the end of their high school careers, whose scores can be used to attend university. These exams culminate under the general heading of Abitur, which makes it sound as if it were one, monstrous exam but in reality, the Abitur consists of several monstrous ones in different subjects i.e. chemistry, French, etc. The students at my school who take the Abitur then have the choice of going to university or into ballet/acrobatic arts.)

Phew! That was a lot. I hope the descriptions of my school’s unique system didn’t confuse you. As for why I decided to apply for Fulbright? The main reasons were: I wanted to go back to Germany for another year, I needed another year to figure out what I wanted to do with my future and I wanted to do something constructive while fulfilling the first two reasons. I have always loved teaching/tutoring my peers since the elementary school (I was also a German tutor at the Center for Writing, Learning and Teaching at UPS last year). The Fulbright program for ETAs was naturally the perfect choice for me and I am enjoying every single moment of my year thus far.

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