Monday, 11 November 2013

The end of an era

Hey everyone,

... and another month has gone by since my last post. It's unbelievable how time flies and in the blink of an eye, I'll be back in Germany.

As most of you would have heard, major bushfires in the Blue Mountains destroyed over 200 houses and vast areas of forest in the Blue Mountains - in exactly the same area that Ninia and I visited just two weeks prior to the fires. Although Sydney itself was not severely affected by the fires, the smoke temporarily covered the entire city in black clouds that obliterated the sun and made 3 pm feel like 10 pm. Luckily, the fires are now under control and the biggest dangers have been averted for Sydney - spring is on the march.
The Bushfires in the Blue Mountains (Katoomba and Blackheath)
The Blue Mountains on fire
Black clouds covering a beach
Spring at Sydney Uni (courtesy of Natthaphon Tripornchaisak)
The month of October as well as the beginning of November were probably the most intense time of studying I have ever had. During the last six weeks, I handed in about 22.500 words worth of assignments - for those of you who prefer counting in pages, it's about 50 pages of text (not including reference lists, appendices etc.). Just to put this into perspective: that's more pages than my BA thesis paper in less time and on 12 different topics, i.e. 12 x research, 12 x literature review, 12 x introduction & conclusion. All the more relieved am I now that my second and final semester at the University of Sydney is over - all assignments have been handed in - I'm a free man! Following the example of our class evaluations (yes, they must exist in every part of the world), I'd like to give a little retrospective evaluation of my time at USyd for those of you who might think about studying in Australia. 
First off: tuition fees. There is no degree in the world that is worth tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. Secondly: organisation of the programme. Do not take the fact that the Australian tertiary education system relies largely on written assignments lightly. My entire degree included one mid-term exam in an elective unit - all other assignments were written papers. For those of you who consider themselves better at studying for exams than preparing 15 page papers - keep searching!
Thirdly: the quality of instruction. Highly debatable, highly variable. But not better than in Germany.
The things I have learned from studying in Australia: be organised (so you can handle the enormous work load), use correct referencing styles to please your teacher (varying from one subject to the other and one of the most unnecessary and least understandable phenomena in the academic world if you ask me) and finally: do not contradict or question the Gods of Linguistics (lengthy discussions that reach no agreement or compromise will follow).

Thumbing through my organiser right now, I realise that there's hardly any appointments other than deadlines for papers, essays and reports. In fact, I don't remember much else anyway - so I'll tell you a bit more about some of my final assignments. 
Thanks to some amazing support that I have received from the Centre of Language Teaching at the University of Paderborn, I was able to write one of my final papers on the academic writing skills of German students in English essays. The entire title is as follows: "Writing in a foreign language - The strengths and weaknesses in German university students' English Academic Writing cohesion as represented by thematic progression."
For my cross-cultural communication paper, I was required to carry out an interview with a first-generation migrant who has immigrated to Australia in order to find out how their "linguistic repertoire" affects their "employability". In other words: why do immigrants that don't speak English (well) have a hard time finding a job in Australia? The interview was recorded, transcribed and then analysed in a cross-cultural context.
Finally, the most enjoyable final assignment of the semester was on "Discourses of Globalisation". I chose to analyse images, more specifically photos in travel brochures that represent the local population of the respective travel destination. In so doing, I had a look at Fijians, Africans and Middle Easterners in Australian travel brochures. The interesting - and shocking - result: Fijians are portrayed as servants that will do everything to make the visitor feel comfortable; Africans are attention-grabbing individuals that naturally welcome everyone into their own community; and the Middle-Eastern population live their culture behind closed doors while overly protective men make sure no visitor intrudes into their life. How is this relevant? Well, travel brochures create expectations and attitudes in the tourists who then behave in certain ways towards the locals. In the Fijian case, that can be quite drastic - it's not for nothing that Australians have a bad reputation in Fiji as being particularly rude and aggressive.

The last week of the semester heralded the end of an era for most of my fellow students - including me. With only the marking of our papers and the subsequent awarding of the title "Master of Applied Linguistics" left, it was hard to realise that "This was it" - the last time of sitting in a lecture, the last readings to prepare (for those who did them), the last classroom discussions. We went out for dinner with almost every class and had an international buffet during the very last lecture. 

The divine Tongan fruit drink "Otai"
[made by my classmate Taulama from Tonga, my version in the photo
(the fruit are for decoration, no ingredients)]
It was not till after all the assignments were handed in that I realised that this was the end of my tertiary education and educational career in general. Since I was 6, I've been listening to and observing teachers near a blackboard, sitting exams, writing papers. But this is over now. What's next? I don't know yet but I am in the process of applying for jobs. As a teacher. To eventually end up next to the blackboard again. Only on the other side. While I am currently still working on a translation from German to English (a kind of mini job to earn some money), the next three months ahead can be expected to become the most amazing ever. When I leave for Fiji on Sunday, I will only return to Sydney for a total of 16 days in between my trips before heading home in early February. I can't wait to spend so much time travelling but also, to eventually come home to Germany to catch up with my friends again. Overall, it's been a good year but most of all a great experience of living overseas that makes you realise more and more who you are, where you're from and where you want to go in life. As such - despite some disagreement with the Australian tertiary education - it has been a time that I wouldn't want to miss and that has substantially enriched my life and broadened my understanding of the world we live in.

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