Friday, July 16, 2010

Here's me overseas . . .


. . . 'cross the Pond, by the Alps if not by the Dover Peaks (which I've also been photographed in front of, purely for the sake of a musical reference which will likely be lost on most readers). This photo was taken on the roof of the Jesuitenkolleg in Innsbruck, my base until late August. The Jesuit presence in Innsbruck dates back to 1562, when St. Peter Canisius established a Jesuit college at the invitation of Emperor Ferdinand I. The institution that Canisius founded survives to this day as the Akademisches Gymnasium Innsbruck, which is no longer under Jesuit administration but remains one of the leading secondary schools in Western Austria. The Faculty of Catholic Theology of the University of Innsbruck also traces its origins to the Jesuit college founded in 1562, though the university itself wasn't founded until 1669. The building that you see behind me in the above photo is the Jesuitenkirche, built during the first half of the 17th century and administered by the Society of Jesus for the better part of four hundred years. Suffice it to say, then, that the Jesuits have deep roots here in Innsbruck.

The German-language program that I'm enrolled here lives up to its billing as an "intensive" course, as most of my waking hours over the past couple of weeks have been occupied with some form of study. On weekdays I have three hours of class before lunch, with several pages of grammar exercises assigned each day for homework. As always, Jesuit community life provides a mix of blessings and challenges. The permanent community at the Jesuitenkolleg is made up of around thirty men representing various ages, backgrounds and apostolic commitments; while a majority are linked to the University of Innsbruck as students or teachers, others are engaged in various apostolates in the area or live in active retirement. In addition to the regular apostolic community here, the Jesuitenkolleg is currently home to a dozen young Jesuits from around the world who have come here to study German for the summer. The global dimension of the Society of Jesus is accordingly very palpably present here.

Though community life here has been very enjoyable for me, trying to learn a new language in an environment like this one brings two distinct challenges. On the one hand, living in a German-speaking Jesuit community has forced me to stretch myself by communicating throughout the day in a language that I'm only beginning to learn; in other words, my daily immersion in German begins the moment that I sit down at the breakfast table and continues until I've said Gute Nacht to the Austrian Jesuit I cross paths with in the kitchen when we're both looking for a midnight snack. At the same time, though, the pervasiveness of English in a globalized world makes true immersion in another language practically impossible. While many (but not all) of the local Jesuits speak English, the language is also a lingua franca among the international Jesuits who are here to study German - it may be a second, third or fourth language for most, but it's still the most widely-shared common language in the group. Tired by the rigors of study and limited in our ability to express ourselves in German, we can too easily succumb to the temptation to withdraw into an Anglophone bubble.

Soon I hope to write in greater detail about my experiences here, but for now I wanted to at least post some general thoughts to let readers of this blog know that I haven't forgetten them. Until my next update, please know of my prayers for all readers and please pray for me and my fellows as we continue our studies. AMDG.

6 Comments:

At 7/17/2010 7:06 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

Viel Glueck and alles Gute in Deiner anstrengenden Studienzeit! [Lots of luck and everything good in your strenuous time of study! -- at least that is what I hope I wrote. My German is a bit rusty.] Do take time to enjoy the pastries and coffee in the gorgeous town of Innsbruck. I have passed by on the train and always wanted to get off and spend some time there. Munich is not far either.

One thing I realized about the German language is that German speakers themselves don't speak it so well and admire anyone who tries to speak their language. They will meet you halfway. I had a gift for twisting my sentences so that nouns always ended up in the dative plural where all endings are the same. Mind you, Gift in German means poison!

 
At 7/18/2010 8:58 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Barbara,

Danke für die vielen guten Wünsche! I think you're absolutely right about the 'meeting halfway' point; I appreciate the fact that people here are willing to work with me in my halting German. A lot of the Austrian and German Jesuits I live with speak English very well, but they're patient enough to deal with my attempts to speak in their language rather than simply switch to English. (That being said, it's still hard to resist the temptation to speak English in the house when there are so many English-speakers around and the fatigue of having to communicate all the time in a new language sets in.)

Grammatically, I'm finding German very challenging - in that regard, it's a lot more difficult than French, though the comparison may be unfair as I have two decades' experience with French and have gradually become more and more comfortable using the language while by contrast I'm trying to pick up German very quickly... well, let's see how far I get before I return to the States late next month.

 
At 7/19/2010 11:15 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Immersion is exhausting! I remember spending a summer living in rural Mexico where I was the only English speaker for some miles, and how every night I would collapse and re-read the one English book I had for a bit of relief.

Enjoy Austria - I spent a bit of time there when my sons were little and found as you did that people were patient with my German and always helpful with hauling the stroller in and out of the streetcars and buses.

Guten Glück!

 
At 7/22/2010 8:50 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Michelle,

Thanks for the comment - yes, immersion can be psychologically and physically taxing (this is my third time doing it - the first two times were in Spanish, in Peru and then in Chile). I did bring an English-language book with me, but I've barely had time to read it - if I'm lucky, I manage to read a couple pages every two or three days, which leads me to believe that I may not make it to the end before I return to the States!

 
At 7/24/2010 12:02 PM, Blogger Tzipyo said...

Guten Tag, Joe, from Boston!

When I had to pass two foreign language exams for my doctorate, I chose German, the language I studied in high school, for one of them. I dug out my old high school texts from 17 years previously, reviewed it all over a couple of months, took the standardized doctoral reading exam and passed. The secret? Joe, you need a good old-fashioned nun to drill it into your head. On the basis of what Sister Marie Doyle, CSJ had taught me from 1961-1963, I got it!
Then again, studying German at the original school of Karl Rahner ought to do you well. Why not pray to him for assistance!

Go Red Sox!

Jane

 
At 7/24/2010 5:38 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Jane,

Good hearing from you, and thanks for the advice - I've seen some sisters in habits on the streets around here, so there may still be some old-fashioned nuns in Innsbruck who are up to task.

Karl Rahner is actually buried in the crypt of the church next to the Jesuit residence I'm staying in, so perhaps I could pay him a special visit. Incidentally, I was struck that when I did visit his grave there were no candles or flowers there, but there were some in front of the grave marker next to his, of a Jesuit I had never heard of but who presumably had touched lives here without becoming as well known as Rahner - some food for thought there, I suppose.

Go Sox,

Joe

 

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