Monday, February 25, 2013

Great Expectations

Lausanne, July
The other week a colleague jokingly said it was cute I was "stressed" about a presentation I was giving in the office, and that it was very "American" of me to put in so much effort. My brain, as always, jumped to the underlying cultural implications of such a statement. Do we Americans tend to be perfectionists and put lots of effort into every little thing (at least in a professional sense)? And if so, why? Is it because we're worried about how we will look in front of others or because success is heavily valued in our society? Or because striving to be "better" and ascending the ranks in some form is part of our Puritan, ambitious, self-starting work ethic?

Colleague's husband's art in Tel Aviv, October
That may play a role, but I also have a hunch that this cultural difference is due in part to educational structure and expectations. In Germany, it's all about credentials. Not "what school did you go to?" (no Ivy League here), but more "what exact training did you receive and what exact certificates do you have?" If you have the certificate, you're expected to know a certain standardized body of knowledge that others outside the field don't have. If you don't have the certificate, well, it's not your field so why should you? Part of this must stem from the fact that people choose an academic or job training path so much earlier here than we are forced to in the States, where spending half of college earning liberal arts credits before choosing a major is the norm. Let alone the number of us who end up doing jobs after college that barely relate to our degree.

Kreuzberg, January
In Germany, life planning is notably more direct: you're filtered into a school level by age 10 that determines whether you will go to college or into a vocational path, and before entering higher education you most certainly have picked a major. That area becomes your expertise and if you want to do something else, you basically start over from scratch to get all those required certificates for that new field. Even applying to university is a more no-nonsense game over here. It's not about how many extracurriculars you did, what type of personality you have, or where you see yourself in 10 years. It's your grades and your planned field of study, that's it. This system is too rigid- 10 years old is way too early to filter, tracking puts lower-income students at a disadvantage, and the 21st century requires a more flexible skill set- but I can't deny it has its advantages, too. People are highly trained and generally competent in their fields. In the US on the other hand, the typical liberal arts college is designed to give you a well-rounded and general skill set (learning how to write and do research, learning to work well with others, etc.) and subsequently a lot of training ends up happening "on the job."

Tiergarten, February
My colleague summed it up this way: Germans plan and Americans prepare. And I think there's some truth to that. If you're well-trained for a job, you may not feel the need to do a lot of "last minute" preparation because you've been preparing for, oh, 10 years. And maybe, if I'm allowed to push it this far, the higher level of job security in Germany may make pushing yourself to the brink or outshining the others less of an issue. In a similar vein, my American friends and I have talked about how unusual it is to hear praise from teachers or bosses here. While in the US you may get a "great job!" for sorting the mail correctly, in Germany you may receive no positive feedback after a 30 minute presentation that you put hours of work into. Both situations can seem a bit ridiculous (and counterproductive) at times.

Köln, February
I would probably be more confident in my current job had I began training in international education at age 14 or 18 (or even 22 instead of 25), but a great deal of my "training" for this field and the reason I got my job is my soft skills, and those come from a variety of experiences and jobs, not from one certificate. So in typical transnational form, I think both systems have it right and wrong and could stand to learn from one another. A little planning and a little preparation never hurt anyone.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

B is for Belated, Bears, and Berlin

Happy belated Valentine's Day, dear readers! I don't know about you, but my V-Day was pretty good. I started off my evening with a Spinach and Cheese Börek from my favorite Turkish stand by work and a homemade cosmopolitan, followed by finally seeing Les Misérables at Berlinale, Berlin's annual film festival. There was a red carpet at the theater which made me feel all sorts of important (minus the celebrities) and there were beers (which we smuggled in). Kelly and I went to Berlinale last year in our unemployed days when we had no sorts of real lives and all sorts of time to go explore the city every day and take cute pictures and wish you a Happy Valentine's Day on time. This year I offer you the following picture, which took 5 tries and still didn't turn out right:

Also, cultural difference alert!! Apparently the Germans found any mention of Jean Valjean "giving away" Cosette to Maurius incredibly funny. I mean, they were cracking up in any scene where it came up. The idea that a man would pass off his daughter like property! Ludicrous! It is pretty silly, but come on, this was the 1800s and Jean did Cosette a real solid with the whole adoption thing.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Seasons Part III

It's that time of the year again for a seasonal tree update. Lately they've been chopping down trees around our beloved Lietzensee like nobody's business, but thankfully my favorite Baum is still standing tall and proud. Who could really cut down such an extraordinary tree like this one, anyway? It's too bad I didn't think to get a shot when the lake was frozen, but the other part of me is happy that temperatures are now hovering around freezing rather than plunging deeply below it. Makes my 2 hr weekend jogs somewhat more enjoyable. More to come soon, but for now it's bedtime. Gute Nacht!

July 2012
October 2012
January 2013