Friday, February 15, 2008

Germany - Day 16: 2/15 (Tragedy at Home and Many Types of Drama Abroad)

Days Left to Departure: 8

This morning I woke up earlier than the last few days because I wanted to get some work done, including cleaning up my room at the Schwich’s. I was sidetracked by another morning ritual of mine, which is reading the morning news online. While I enjoy looking at the German newspaper NRZ (Neue Rhine Zeitung), I am usually just looking at pictures and for familiar words. For example this morning, I think I was reading a review of Stallone’s new action movie, John Rambo, but I have no idea what was going on for sure, thinking that the film was either taking place in or filmed in Burma. Maybe it was both. In any event, greeted me this morning with news of the gunman at Northern Illinois University, who shot 22 people, killing five, before turning the gun on himself. It is a little bizarre being over here and hearing about tragedies at home. In China, I had a friend that sent me the weekly newspaper that was published on campus. Mail took about two weeks to arrive, so I usually found out about information weeks after anything happened, and being that it was a weekly paper, sometimes the news was a week old to begin with. I didn’t even know who won the World Series in ’97 until almost Thanksgiving. That type of insulation allowed a total immersion and an almost disconnect with events at home because I couldn’t read almost a single word in a Chinese newspaper as the pictographic language is so different.

So this is a new experience for me. To a degree, I guess there is a feeling of helplessness when I heard of natural disasters, the monster storms (that have my wife calling at 1 A.M. German time to ask how to start the snow blower), and now this shooting. Really, though, when you think about it, I wouldn’t be able to do much about rural Kansas or NIU. Besides taking care of the driveway, its just a strain of the same feeling that I have when I am home. The only difference here is that no one exactly understands. Beatrix made note that they have issues of their own here, and they are usually and thankfully much less violent than in the United States.

So we have again, someone who writes threats on walls about causing massive change and then, weeks later, thinks the best way to do that is to open fire on a random group of students. How, and in what psychologically deranged universe of neurobiological imbalance does this make any logical sense? Shooting college students will change the world? What happened to people like Martin Luther just nailing his issues to the wall of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. People took notice. The Protestant Reformation ensued. No one died, at least by his hand. Granted, you had multiple inquisitions based on this split in the church, but that is not the point I am trying to make. Sometimes I think that getting rid of guns may actually have some merit, but then I realize that people would just use home made bombs using wikipedia, so what is the difference? Part of me feels sad, knowing that the gunman must have been deranged to a level that most of us won’t understand, but it seems like it is happening so often that I think we are seeing so many more of these events occur because people see the media scrutiny and it’s an alternative to being one of the losers on American Idol. You get your fifteen minutes of infamy and then that’s it. I don’t pretend to be a mind hunter, although I was fascinated with abnormal psychology in college (it was definitely in the top two of my favorite psych courses at Union), but this to me seems like an issue that we had better start finding answers for because for some reason that I am not yet comprehending, American schools are the prime target for gunmen run amok.

Off of that topic, at least for the time being, today provided itself with an opportunity to sit in on a 13th Grade AP World Politics class, taught in English. Student were learning about the United Nations and the General Secretary career of Kofi Amaan and newly elected (well, last year) General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon. It was an interesting class and I was really impressed with the students’ knowledge of English and how it was taught alongside international politics (such as asking for a list of English verbs that cover the different ways we say that a person has started time in office). Students were mostly engaged and asking good questions. Herr Fabricius asked me a few, one about the U.S.’s view of the U.N. and I said that, believe it or not, most Americans didn’t like war and wanted the world to be at piece. This generated a lot of laughter as if it was the most ridiculous thing that any of them had heard. This is our international image among Germany’s educated teens and it is a reality that the next president, be it McCain, Obama, or Clinton, best be prepared to deal with seriously.

Frau Canavan and I did indulge in the German concept of “Second Breakfast” this morning and we went into the City of Moers while we were on break and had a great breakfast and milchkaffe. It consisted of a round, thin, toasted waffle, cherries in sauces, a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, and some whip cream. Totally a part of a balanced breakfast (dairy, grains, fruits, etc.). Despite asking if I was in the land of the Hobbits at first hearing of it, I think that second breakfast is something that I could learn to enjoy.

We did have to deal with some program drama today and I had my first parent-teacher conference where the predominant language spoken was German, about 90% of the time. I thought, from what I understood, that it went well and that I hope the parents concerns were adequately addressed. This meeting, as well as another issue involving an exchange pairing definitely showed me that some people don’t understand the true nature of how difficult a cultural and language barrier can be.

Tonight I am attending a high school play. Hannah (the eldest daughter of my host family)’s school is putting on a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” and Beatrix asked if I would have interest in attending, despite that it is in German. We are also leaving for Amsterdam in the morning, so I am going to get some packing and laundry done for that trip so I can get some sleep this evening. Never brief, just briefer than usual. My hat is off to you, Polonius!

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