Youths these days

28 Jun 2015

(Originally posted on my old personal blog, Adventures with KHill!)

This has been another very busy but excellent week! Lots of stuff to write about and I’m thankful to my past self for taking notes in my handy dandy notebook (name that kids’ show) throughout each day.

Monday: I started this day by meeting with the man with whom I’d be working this week, whose name is also Herr M. Different Herr M from the previous Herr M I’ve been working with, so I think I’ll actually just call him Herr L here. Herr L is the head of the department for Kinder, Jugend, Sport (kids, youth, sport), and his job is to oversee a ton of different youth centers, day cares, kindergartens, and more throughout Fürstenfeldbruck. So first thing Monday morning, he explained to me what his work entails and then promptly sent me out into the “field.” I didn’t see him for the rest of the week and my schedule every day involved different visits he arranged for me to sites he oversees. The place I went to on Monday is called a Hort. It is attached to one of the local elementary schools and it essentially an after-school program for kids that attend that school. Elementary school gets out between noon to 1 p.m. every day depending on the class one is in, so kids with two parents who work have to go somewhere until their parents can take them home. The Hort has homework time to make sure kids are at least a little productive before their parents take them for the evening, but there is also a lot of free time to play games indoors or outdoors, make crafts, etc. I got to make a Christmas ornament for their Christmas market in a few months where they sell a bunch of crafts to raise money for field trips/excursions for the kids. It does seem quite early to start crafting for Christmas, but I ascribe to the treat-every-day-like-Christmas mentality, so it was great. The kids were sweet and curious. The questions I got asked the most included, “What’s your name? Why is that your name? Is America cool? Do you have a boyfriend? Does he have brown hair too?” Another thing I enjoyed was that the kids shook hands with and said goodbye to every adult in the room when it was their time to leave. I noticed this at every other place I was sent this week, too, no matter the age of the kids/youth there. I think it’s cooler and more respectful than just yelling out a “SEE YA” to everyone at once, as I have been known to do back home.

Tuesday: This day I got to sleep in (yippee!) before heading to spend the afternoon/evening at a state supported youth center called a Jugendzentrum. When I first got there, Frau G took me on a tour of the facilities. Indoors, the main floor is a big open space with a pool table, foosball table, TV with Playstation, ping pong table, lots of couches, and a kitchen with drinks and snacks for purchase. Downstairs, there is a “disko” - big room with mirrored walls, couches, speaker system, disco ball - as well as a mini makeshift recording studio and a computer lab. Outside the center, they have a small skateboarding half-pipe and basketball goal. This super nice center, like many other places I’ve seen so far, is something for which we have comparable facilities in America, but the difference is that ours are usually run by private organizations or non-profits and almost never state sponsored. I’m a fan of the government providing fun, safe spaces like this to youth to use on weeknights for free. This is one of two Jugendzentrums in Stadt F, a city with only around 30,000 residents, so they are quite frequent in Germany. It gives any youth who maybe don’t want to spend all their time at home but also don’t have or don’t want to spend money something to do besides going to the mall/movies. When I arrived, there was a kids program going on for elementary school-aged kids that happens twice weekly. They were making some crafts that I got to help with - little seed wood chip stuffed “heads” that kids drew faces on and eventually the seed will sprout into grass “hair” on the heads. I also sat in on a little Zumba instruction happening in the disko, and I was forced to join in, so my cool American facade was immediately shot as I revealed how little rhythm I have. The kids program ended at the time in the afternoon that the center officially opens up to youth. Around this time, a bunch of teenage guys showed up and played a little basketball/ping pong before quickly settling in front of the Playstation. Frau G tried to introduce me and get some of them to do something other than play FIFA so I would be more entertained, and the guys were nice but had absolutely no interest in hanging out with me over their game. It was kind of hilarious how much they did not care that I was there; I felt like the awkward old person trying to be cool and relate to the youths. Eventually Frau G convinced someone to play foosball with us and I got to demonstrate that I am even worse at foosball than I am at dancing. Nonetheless, it was a fun day and very neat to see what a large presence the youth center has in the community.

Wednesday: I got to sleep in again this day (holla) then go in the afternoon first to a place that I’ll call the Tafel. “Tafel” means table, and this place is essentially a once-weekly free food pantry for residents in need of food. Every Wednesday, all of the local supermarkets donate veggies, fruits, bread, and some packaged goods that have reached their printed “sell by” date so can no longer be sold, but are still good to be consumed. A bunch of volunteers (almost entirely elderly, retired people aka my favorite variety of people) then sort the items into various shelves and boxes in the early afternoon, and later the Tafel is open for a huge line of people to come “shop” for their allotted weekly amount of goods. It’s like a smaller version of a place in my hometown called God’s Pantry, but with more fresh food than canned goods and most stuff donated by markets instead of individuals. I got to wear a green apron with a pretzel on it that everyone else wears while I helped sort the goods. A couple of sweet elderly ladies talked a lot with me about different Germany/America distinctions, upcoming American presidential elections, how we use a lot more disposable paper/plastic packaging in America than they do in Germany, current events and racism issues, and more. On the whole, I’m always impressed by how much Germans really know about American current events and politics, while we know so little about theirs. The ladies were so kind and had an interesting perspective, and I’m hoping to get to volunteer there again. After that, I walked to the Jugendzentrum and met with Herr I who is a “mobile Jugendarbeiter” (mobile youth worker) but they literally call his position “street worker,” which has a slightly different meaning in America. He has an office in the youth center where he can meet with youth or others in need of anything and talk with them or let them use his computer. The main part of his job, however, is spent walking around the city and talking with people. He goes on walkabout every day throughout a lot of west and north Stadt F and stops to talk to any young people he sees. A lot of youth, particularly young men, who don’t utilize the youth center spend their times out walking the streets. Generally speaking, hanging out on the streets every evening rather than being at home, the youth center, or elsewhere implies that home life is too cramped/not ideal for whatever reason and these young people are often at higher risk for getting into things like drugs, alcohol, and crime. Herr I says that naturally, this is not always the case; some people just like hanging out outside. But by talking to and building relationships with young people often seen out on the streets, he is able to become a trusted resource should they ever be in trouble or need/want help. His job is not to police these kids; if he walks up on people drinking underage or selling drugs, he doesn’t do anything about it. For his position, maintaining their trust is the most important thing so that he can be their resource for help. Once they get to know him, a lot of young people use his help dealing with a wide array of family issues, personal problems, applying for jobs, figuring out the future, and more. I find his work so fascinating, but it also takes a very specific type of person who is the right combination of talkative and not awkward, relatable and respectable. He taught me about the area as we walked. West Stadt F is considered by locals to be the “ghetto,” which I found laughable because it looked and felt like a perfectly nice and comfortable neighborhood. This stereotype comes from the fact that there are a lot of state-supported apartments and many, many immigrants in the area. Many of the youth attend “Hauptschule,” which is the lowest tier of the three options for German schooling after elementary school. It officially trains students to go into a job, like something technical or mechanical. Herr I told me, however, that it is widely known that both teachers and students are more apathetic toward education at Hauptschule and it is always very controversial in Germany that kids are essentially sorted into three tiers of life chances as fourth graders and there is little socioeconomic mobility because of it. I love the wide network of social supports that Germany has, but their education system…I’m just not sure. That may be a topic for another time, though. My evening with Herr I was really informative and showed me a totally unique side of social work here.

Thursday: This day, I spent time with the youngest group of kids yet at a Kindergarten! Though we use the word Kindergarten to describe the year before first grade in America, it’s a little different in its origins in Germany. Kids from 3-6 years old can come to the Kindergarten for a half to full day while their parents are at work and they are in mixed age group classes based on how much of the day they stay there. It seems a little more on the day care side than the educational side and involves a lot of play, but it is still decently structured and helps kids learn social skills. The teacher of the class I was in told me that many of her students are immigrants from places like Croatia, Romania, and Togo, so Kindergarten is a very helpful way for them to learn German from their peers and teachers. Most of the day was spent outside, because the weather was nice and the Kindergarten has a huge play space with plenty of grass, trees, swings, jungle gyms, and giant sand boxes. I didn’t really know what to do, so I walked around and talked to kids and slowly noticed that I was collecting a flock of followers. They were all adorable and funny, and my favorite part of the day was probably when a tiny 4 year old girl who speaks no English sang me every single word of the song “Let it Go.” Disney is universal, guys. There was also a 4 year old boy who followed me around and kept trying to sit in my lap and gave me a purple packing peanut that I think he stole from the classroom collection, though I’m not sure why the classroom had a bucket of packing peanuts. The last year of Kindergarten before kids go to elementary school is more like our version of Kindergarten, where they start learning things like numbers, colors, reading, and writing. That part is mandatory, but going to Kindergarten earlier is an option that many parents take to help their kids’ social development so they’re on par with their peers when they begin school. This day was just a lot of cuteness all around but also confirmed that childcare/elementary school teaching are not in my future. Tiny humans are cute and fun in doses.

Friday: This day, I went back to the Rathaus with Frau H. One interesting thing I learned is that (as I had already kind of noticed) there are no school buses in Germany. As such, the government will pay for kids’ public transport passes to get to the nearest school to them. Cool system that is widely utilized, especially as kids get old enough to go to school without assistance from parents. On this day, I rode along with Frau H, the mayor (Bürgermeister!), and a city photographer to a quick meeting at a local grocery store. Basically, the store owners donated a ton of chocolate to the city to be given out in various places, like the Tafel, and the mayor was going to officially thank them and do a little photo op. It was funny and political and I was just kind of quiet and sat back and watched it all. On the way back, the mayor, Herr P, was asking me about myself and what I am doing this summer. For some reason, I felt the need to tell him and the rest of the car about the American cartoon character of “Bürgermeister Meisterbürger,” but it didn’t make for a very good story and did not translate as very funny. For some even lesser known reason, Herr P still offered for me to come work with him for a part of my internship. Apparently, the Rathaus has interns all the time and he has never made anyone such an offer before, so it’s a big deal and I feel really honored (and undeserving after the unfunny Bürgermeister story). After that, I met with Frau B who runs a thing called the Ferienprogramm (vacation program) that I will get to help with at the end of the summer. More on that later because this post is already super long. I got to go home early on Friday since my hours were so weird this week, and as a bonus, I got ice cream on my walk back home. Living the dream.

Saturday: Fun weekend things! First, I met up with my German professor from home, Herr W, and we went to the Münchner Stadtmuseum. It has a ton of history and artifacts from Munich and Bavaria and is definitely one of the best museums I’ve been to in this city. It also has a really cool large wooden miniature city plan, which I’ll try to include a picture of when my computer cooperates. Then, I met up with Matthew, a friend from home, and had a delicious dinner of Weißwurst and Knödel, then walked a lot around the city. We got ice cream and stumbled upon an outdoor opera singer concert in Königsplatz, where we sat outside and listened since we were plebeians without tickets. It’s crazy how nice it can be to see people from home over here. Great end to a wonderful week!

Wow this was the longest blog post ever. Thanks for reading, loving parents. Miss you all.