I arrived back in Calgary on Sunday, so I have now been home for 3 days. Although I didn't experience any really intense reverse-culture shock coming from Germany, it has still definitely taken a bit of time to get used to being back in Calgary. For one thing the snow and negative temperatures were definitely a shock to my system, although admittedly I am glad to be back in a city that experiences way more sunny days than grey cloudy days. One thing I didn't expect to find challenging about moving to Hamburg was the weather, however I quickly learned that I much prefer to live somewhere with more sunshine than rain (even if that means it's -20 degrees!). It was really nice being able to experience fall for a bit longer than I am used to in Hamburg though and I was sure to spend my last few days appreciating the pretty fall colours before coming home to the snow. I am slowing getting used to the fact that people in grocery stores and coffee shops (and everywhere else) in Calgary aren't going to speak to me in German and that I won't need to try and respond to them in the very little German that I know. Language learning was something that I found difficult during my time abroad since we had no structured formal German language lessons that really pushed us to learn the language. Teaching lessons for the students' English classes at the elementary school also meant that most of my interactions with the students and teachers were in English. I was thankful that most places I went in Hamburg (and other cities in Germany) had at least one person who spoke English so I never felt too trapped in not understanding the language very well. However, I also feel that because of this I wasn't necessarily pushed to learn the German language to the extent that I had hoped. Being so busy with university coursework, spending time in the classrooms, and exploring Germany unfortunately left little time for me to really focus on learning the language. This has made me realize that the next time I travel abroad I definitely want to push myself more to develop better language skills in the language of the country I am in. Surprisingly another big adjustment has been getting used to driving everywhere again, since I was only getting around by public transportation (buses, trains, and trams) for the past 10 weeks. It feels oddly strange to be able to get into my car and drive to exactly where I need to be and not worry about having the correct transit ticket for the length of my journey! I have also been struggling to stay up past 6 pm, so hopefully the jet lag wears off soon...
Over the past few days I have been reflecting on my time spent in Hamburg and all that I learned from my TAB experience. While it is difficult to put into words everything that I have taken away from this experience, I know that it has truly been an invaluable one. Having the opportunity to get additional hands-on experience in the classroom in a different country than Canada was an eye-opening experience that helped me feel more prepared to handle any uncomfortable situation I may find myself in in future classrooms. As I mentioned in a previous post, I truly think one of the most valuable lessons I took away from my time in the classrooms was how it feels to be an individual in a classroom who does not understand the language that the majority of teaching is being done in. Even though I was teaching mostly English classes I also sat in on some classes taught in German. In addition, the majority of teacher-student and teacher-teacher communication was done in German. I believe that being in this type of environment really helped me better understand how many ELL students feel in our classrooms at home and how I can help them feel more comfortable, just as the staff and students did for me. While I was a bit intimidated at first about being put into a classroom in a foreign country where the main language spoken was not English, I surprised myself at how easily and willingly I took on the challenge and made the most of my time there. I am coming away from this experience more confident in my abilities as a teacher and in what I have to offer to my students. I am also coming away more aware of the ways in which I can constantly learn from my students and better my teaching. Working alongside a few very supportive English teachers at my school in Hamburg helped me develop some improved teaching strategies for working with ELL students that I know I will be able to take forward with me into my last two practicums and my teaching career. I am very thankful for how friendly, welcoming, and supportive the staff at my school were throughout my time there. They truly made my experience so much better. My last day at the school was filled with goodbyes from the students of the grade 2 and grade 3 classes that I had the pleasure of teaching. Both classes made me a big card with their names, drawings, and little notes on it and presented it to me while sharing things they enjoyed about our time together, along with well wishes for the future. It meant so much to me to see that I had made an impact on the students even in the short time I had been there, and it was so great to hear about their favourite things I had done with them (making a lemon battery was at the top of the list for many students!). Although I was sad to leave them, the bittersweet goodbyes reminded me of the importance of building relationships with your students and the impact that teachers can have on their students.
My TAB experience was also a huge personal growth opportunity for me. It was my first time living away from home and my first time sharing an apartment with a roommate. On top of all that, I was in a foreign country! This experience really helped show me that I am capable of being a much more independent person than I originally thought. Living abroad, traveling, and exploring a new city taught me that I am more open to adventure and new experiences than I once thought I was. I am happy to say that I came home feeling proud of the fact that I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and made memories that will last me the rest of my life. I wouldn't change my experience for anything!
Thank you TAB, the Werklund School of Education, and the University of Calgary for the truly once in a lifetime opportunity! I know this experience and all that I have learned from it will be something I look back on frequently throughout my career. I will miss Hamburg but feel comforted by the fact that I have such fond memories to look back on from my time spent there.