Tuesday, November 8, 2011

First Weeks

Upon the evening of returning home from Orientation, Christine moved in with us. She had been unable to track down a place to live and her one option didn't exactly pan out. Luckily her dad was helping her move to Klagenfurt and her brought her suitcases by in the evening and she officially moved in with us Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, Lora, Grant, Elisabeth from Villach, and I headed to the lake for a swim. We waded in from a location further down the lakeside, away from the main entrance, where you pay large fees just to swim in the lake (and use the locker rooms etc.). The water was freezing, but the sun was up, so we had no worries.

Grant, me, and Elisabeth at the lake

Lora and I were heading back towards town, when Nicole called, asking if we were still swimming since she and Kara were interested in joining us. We were almost back to town, so we wished them well with their adventure and continued on our way. Lora ended up at our house for dinner and we were 4...Christine, Riannon, Lora, and me.

Sunday was spent reading over paperwork and coordinating plans for Monday, as none of us knew exactly how long we would be working on our first day of school and Christine had no key to the house.

My much anticipated first day of school began with a quick walk to school. Soon I found myself merging with the other backpack wearing youngsters, blending in with the crowd, and passing through clusters of students, clouds of smoke, and bypassing kissing couples.
Arriving at the gigantic teacher's lounge, which was stocked with row upon row of wooden tables and blue-cushioned chairs, I was instructed to wait for "Steffi," who would hand me a schedule.

Before I realized it, I found myself being introduced to other English teachers, French teachers, Italian teachers, the school director, the secretaries. I couldn't keep up with the names and the faces, but I found myself nodding somberly and shaking hands with what felt like a thousand new people.

Without catching my breath, I was directed to my first class of the day, the 5A. They very curiously asked me a thousand questions, and even wanted to know what the newest slang was. Scooting to the next class, the 8B, I found myself in front of another friendly, funny, curious crowd. By the way, Austrian grade levels re-start once the students enter Gymnasium (American grade 5-12), so grade 5 in Austria would be the first year of high school in the US and grade 8 would be the last. My third and final class of the day, 6C, was also rather interested, and after a day of introductions to students and teachers alike, I left school smiling, excited to return the next day.

I hurried over the Meldeamt, where I would hopefully officially receive my Visa and which also happened to be almost directly next to the school.
I walked up the spiral steps, knocked on the appropriate door, hoping there was still enough time before the office closed, as I would have to present my Visa to the school the following day. The same woman answered, pulled out my file, and handed me a slip of paper to take to another office, where I could pay the 40 Euros it cost to process the paperwork. I found a man behind a glass window, presented him with my slip and the money. He processed my payment and handed over 2 candy bars at the same time. He just smiled and laughed at my confused expression and handed me another slip of paper before directing me to return to the original office of the day. There, I at last received my Visa, or as it officially called here "Aufenthaltstitle." I thought it would be a large sticker in my passport, like last year, but instead it was an entirely separate card resembling my driver's license.

I headed home quickly, so as not to miss the Internet installation man, who was set to come any time between noon and 6pm. The weather was so nice that I sat outside with the front door of our gate propped open, just in case he had no idea how to reach us once he arrived. Christine arrived and a short while later, the installation man himself. After some quick work, we officially had wireless Internet in our home!

The rest of the school week quickly flew by. There were more introductions, the occasional 'real' lesson, and Tuesday night I found myself at the University taking the German placement test. The first half hour was easy, fill in the missing word or missing part of the word blank test, but by the time I reached the second half was definitely struggling. After a quick speaking interview, I was on my way home.

Wednesday I met Georgina (a girl I met last June when I came down for a visit. She is an engineer from Barcelona, Spain working for the American wind-power company) for dinner and was introduced to her French colleague, Tirolean (so used to live on the border between Italy and Austria on a mountain) roommate, and a former Austrian colleague.

By the time Friday rolled around, I found myself exhausted and feeling miserable. My students for the rest of the week were, shall we say decreasing in curiosity and the desire to even answer me. I often found myself staring down a wall of blank-eyed, non-responsive students, or encountering rude questions and misbehavior. Ah, yes, it really was high school...that's right I swore I would never, ever teach high school. hmmmm....and yet her I find myself.

Our first official weekend fell round the 10th of October, which meant no school for this national holiday, celebrating when the good people of Kärnten voted to remain part of Austria after WWI instead of becoming part of Slovenia. You see, so many people in the area spoke the Slovene language and the borders had been a bit unclear earlier in history, that the entire southern portion of this state of Austria could have been assigned to the country of Slovenia. However, the majority voted to remain in Austria, and so, Kärnten continues to be part of Austria, to this day.

The rest of the school weeks continued to pass by quickly with a heavy focus on grammar and attempting to discover just how exactly I was going to explain when to use which tense of the Future Tense...apparently a HUGE deal in the Austrian school system. Personally, I think they invented some rules here. For example, they have the "will..." and the "am going to..." The official explanation is that "will" means you are uncertain, you don't know if it will happen or not in the future. The "am going to" means you absolutely, positively will do it in the future.I, personally, find myself using "will" mean I am sure I will do something...it still might happen or it might not, I suppose...it is the future after all.

I also still had yet to meet some of the English teachers...some how I had failed to meet them. They had no idea I was coming and would send me away. You see, the way the program works is that I teach each class one day a week, even though the class itself might meet 3 or 4 times a week. I often do not get a choice in what I will teach and am told either a week, a few days, or a few minutes in advance where the class left off and what topic, or more likely, what page in the book I should be covering. The school is very "by the book."

Anyway, once it was at last sorted, I found the month flying by with lessons on immigration and racism, the death penalty, and human rights. Slowly, very slowly I was given more freedom in some classes and we even had a fun Halloween lesson, which I will get to later. And, of course, there was German class twice a week for three hours at a time at the University to occupy my free time.

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