A couple weeks after I got back to Berlin, a large group of us exchange students got together for an after-Christmas Christmas party. The plan was for everyone to bring some sort of dish (appetizer, main course, dessert, drink, whatever) that is traditional in their own celebrations, not necessarily of the home country. We would then talk about our Christmas breaks, either at home or our travels, and enjoy spending time together after a long break. We did bring food (I brought a spinach dip), and we did talk about what we did over the break, but it turned out to be more of an excuse to eat food and drink than to compare cultures, as we originally thought. I did meet a girl there from Spain, named Eva, who was very excited that I had spent part of my break in Madrid, and we ended up talking for over an hour. She then told me she was making tapas for some of her friends the next night, and would I like to join them? She also invited me to come over early to help prepare, if I wanted to learn how to make some of the tapas dishes. I readily said yes, excited to learn how to make some dishes from a new cuisine.
So, the next night, I went off to Eva's apartment. On my way over, I realized it was really a good thing I'm not a shy person, because the only person I knew at this dinner was the hostess, who I had only met the night before. It turned out to be a lot of fun, though. We made croquetas, a Spanish omelet, patatas bravas (potatoes) and, since one Polish girl didn't realize there was a difference between Spanish and Mexican cuisine, nachos. The croquetas and the patatas were pretty simple to make, so I'm sure I'll make those again sometime (get ready, family!), although I didn't help too much with the omelet, so I'll either have to learn again or pass on that one. Eva's other friends started showing up a few hours later, and it was fun to talk to them. It was one of the first times I've gone to a party where there weren't any other native-English speakers, so it was nice that there wasn't any temptation to switch to English. When I did switch out of German, it was to say the few words of Spanish, which impressed several of the Spaniards. "You speak more Spanish than I speak English! Are you sure you've never taken a class?" It was especially nice to break out of my social circle a little bit, even if it was just to meet other exchange students.
Of course, being back at school means getting back to schoolwork, and for me that meant another Referat (in-class presentation). This time, I was presenting in my National Socialism class about resistance efforts against the Nazis. Interesting, right? I thought so too. I unfortunately learned that interesting does not necessarily mean great. I was in a group of five people this time: a Japanese girl, an Italian girl, a French girl, and my friend Jared from California. The Referat was in the middle of January, which meant we needed to start talking and meeting in the beginning of the month. With my wallet crisis, other problems, and the memory of my last presentation, I was determined not to become the leader of the group again. All seemed to go well when the Italian girl made the first contact and suggested a time and place for us to meet. When we met, it turns out that I was the only one that had done any of the reading beforehand, so I suggested a few sub-topics and resources other than just the class reader. Alessandra said she would email everyone that night with all the information we discussed, but no email ever came. Since I had most of the information anyways, I took the liberty to send it out to everyone. Everyone, including Alessandra, took that to mean that I was the new leader of the group.
With such an interesting topic, it was a little difficult to split up the different sub-topics. For one thing, there was no unified resistance movement against the Nazis, so it was impossible to talk about them all in our time limit. Also, I had already decided what I wanted to talk about, and I figured that, if I was the only one that had done any research before our first meeting and come up with examples of topics, I should be able to get my choice of topics, and so I chose military resistance. Somehow, I had to struggle a bit in order to get that topic, as Alessandra also wanted to talk about military resistance. But, with the power of words, I was able to convince her to talk about religious resistance efforts.
All of us also decided that we shouldn't talk for more than an hour total, since professor usually interrupts in the middle of everyone's presentations and would make up the last half-hour of the class. This worked out to about 10 minutes per person, and we all agreed that none of us would go over that limit. It was a little frustrating for Jared and me, since we were both very passionate about our own topics (youth resistance and military resistance) and, if we wanted to, we each probably could have filled up the entire hour, but we agreed that there was really no other option without telling the others they couldn't talk for just as long if they didn't want to. So when the day of the Referat came, imagine our surprise when the French girl got up to speak and talked for about 20 minutes, when both Jared and I were able to condense our speeches to about 8 minutes a piece! The professor was not terribly happy with the timing of the presentation, and that we had spent too much time focusing on the parts of the resistance that didn't really matter, although he did say each individual person did a good job with their own part of the presentation. At least it was finished, I didn't have to worry about any other group projects after that, and the presentation once again was not actually graded.
Ever since the presentation, I've been preparing for finals. I was more worried about these than I have ever worried about finals, not because I didn't know the information (I had a decent grasp before I sat down to fully study), not even because of the language (one test is in English; two of them, the professors said they wouldn't grade me on grammar or my language abilities, just my ability to communicate that I knew and understand the concepts; and one oral reading test). I was mostly worried because I had no idea what the German history finals would be like in comparison to American Economics finals, and these tests are worth 100% of my course grades. I joined study groups for my Berlin at the Time of the Wall class and my European History class, which have been mixed bags. Both of them were with other Californians, but the work ethics were obviously much different for both groups.
For European History, I met with Jennifer, another Aggie, and Ryan, who goes to Santa Cruz. We split our study time into three sessions, the three Saturdays before the test, and went through a third of the key terms each time. In comparison to the other two, I started out feeling like the weak link, not because I didn't know the terms, but because I have never had to study a list of words and events, be able to identify what happened, and what the significance of it. The other two were very patient, though, gave me tips on how to form an identification, and after a short amount of time, I was able to explain terms to the other two. The great thing about this group was, if one of us didn't know one of the terms, at least one of the other two usually did. Having somebody else explain terms in a couple minutes is a lot faster and easier than reading the information in a textbook or on Wikipedia. This test isn't until next Wednesday, so I'll have to wait and see if the study sessions actually helped at all.
For Berlin at the Time of the Wall, I met with 4 other Californians. We divided the 10 lectures up so that each of us only had to read (or, in some cases, read for the first time) two articles or stories and then review for the group. Some people didn't have time to finish the readings or didn't fully understand it, which would have been frustrating but still manageable. We could have taken that opportunity to discuss the reading a little more so that everybody had a chance to better understand what happened. What really frustrated me was the fact that, after less than an hour studying, three of the others pulled out their computers and started going on Facebook, checking their emails, or doing whatever else. The lack of attention really frustrated me, and by the end of the three hours, I didn't feel any more prepared for the test than I had. That test was this past Monday. I was very nervous going into it, as I was the least comfortable with the material out of all of my classes. At least I was able to answer all of the questions I needed to, and 3 of the 10 questions were not even on the readings, just stuff we discussed in class or should just know from living in Berlin. I'm still not entirely confident in how I did on this test, but we'll see how it works out on Monday, when I get the test back.
I didn't study with anybody for my National Socialism class, but I wasn't terribly worried about that class. From my prior history and German classes and my own curiosity, I figured I was pretty well set. My only worry was that it was my first final, and I was nervous about the unknown. Sure, I knew the material, but is the testing style different from the United States? I think I did pretty well on it, but time will tell.
Lastly, I had my oral test on Wednesday for my speaking class. When Kristen had told me about it, she told me that it was really easy to get a grade of 1, the highest grade possible. The test really wasn't anything terribly difficult, just reading out loud while the professor filled out our Schein with our grade. And while I was expecting a high grade in that class, there's a difference between somebody saying it's an easy class, and actually having the piece of paper with the grade in your hand.
So, the semester is wrapping up, I only have one week left of Winter Semester 2010/2011. It's a very bittersweet time. On the one hand, there are a lot of people I've met who aren't staying for Summer Semester, so who knows if I'll ever see them again. On the other hand, the semester break is coming up, which means two months of time where I don't need to worry about classes, papers, presentations, or any kind of school responsibilities. Can anybody say, "Travel Time"?