Friday 24 November 2017

Alasdair Donovan: Scarves all year round . . . it's some transition

As my friends in Dublin start Transition Year, I have opted for a 'Jahr des Ubergangs', which my new best friend, Google Translate, tells me is the German for transition year.

I had thought a great deal about the merits of going abroad for Transition Year. My school's programme, in Dublin, seems really good and would have been a lot of fun. However, I felt that a year where I had no exams or set objectives seemed too good an opportunity to waste.

It is a great chance to experience a different environment, to see what it's like to be away from home and, hopefully, to become fluent in a new language.

On September 10, I became a student of Kolleg St Blasien's, a mixed boarding school in the Black Forest. I picked it because, when I went to visit, the students seemed genuinely nice and friendly, the staff were very hospitable and the general vibe was upbeat and positive.

Unlike many German boarding schools, pupils are encouraged not to go home at the weekends. In many of the schools I looked at I might have been one of the few students there at the weekend. From my experience, I would say that this was the most important consideration.

The school system is even more different than what I had expected. We have school on a Saturday, our classes are one-and-a-half hours long as opposed to 40 minutes and, with a few exceptions, we have each subject only once a week.

Considering the renown of German business and technology, the school system surprisingly focuses on the arts and not the sciences -- more than half of the total hours are given over to languages and music is a core, and in this school, compulsory, subject.

The Germans use of continuous assessment is completely alien. The end-of-year exams only account for 40pc of your final grade, the remaining 60pc goes on:

• The quality of your homework.

• Monthly class tests.

• How much your teacher feels you have participated in class.

Pupils are also treated differently; many of the older boarders have their own cars and the freedom that goes with it. The school has its own bar or "party Keller" where the older students are allowed alcohol, albeit strictly rationed.

So far my experience has been positive. The other students have been welcoming, although so much so that they have the tendency to stop me speaking German and talk in English.

The German students "must-have" this year is a scarf regardless of how hot it is -- a fashion statement that seems to have bypassed Ireland.

The teachers are friendly and not at all bothered at my inability, at times, to comprehend their classes.

Leaving my home comforts and getting into an alien routine was hard but I've pretty much gotten over it. I do, however, have a new-found appreciation of my mum's cooking!

Right now a whole year away seems to be very long, but I am told that to be truly fluent it's an investment you have to make. And it's a great opportunity to experience a new culture -- and wear scarves all year round!

Alasdair Donovan is a pupil at St Michael's College, Ailesbury Rd, Dublin

Irish Independent

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