Experiences Of A German Teaching Assistant In Canada (MatadorU)

For my second MatadorU assignment we were given three choices of what to write – Option 1: A direct observation/sketch of a scene; Option 2: A social commentary; or Option 3: An interview.  I chose option 3. The task was to produce a 3 – 5 question interview piece applying the interview skills that we had learned in the previous chapter. I had the privilege of interviewing a close friend of mine who I had met while we were both living and working abroad in Canada. (Barbara, you are a star!)  Here is my submitted assignment.


Experiences Of A German Teaching Assistant In Canada

There are a variety of different options for tertiary education students who want to travel overseas in between or even during semesters.  For some, vacations during summer or semester breaks are adequate, but other students crave a different kind of experience, something that is more authentic. Another option that students have is to study abroad for a semester, but this option can be quite costly.

Barbara, an education major from Germany, went down a different route – she postponed her studies and spent a semester working as a German Language Teaching Assistant in Canada.  Living abroad allowed her to fully immerse herself in a different culture, while working full time allowed her to fund her travels.  Barbara worked at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, and working as a teaching assistant allowed her to gain valuable experience in her field of study.  She shares her experience with me below.

Q: When did you come to Canada and when did you find out about this particular job at the University of Lethbridge?

I came to Canada in August 2012 because a 3-month-stay in an English-speaking country is a requirement for my course in English Language and Literature for Education.  I had been abroad before as an Au Pair in Australia and decided it would be more advantageous to spend a longer time abroad again both for the language aspect as well as for personal development.  In November 2011 I applied for a Teaching Assistant (TA) position in Canada through a German exchange organization.  It was a very long nerve-racking application process and a relief when I was invited to an online interview with the University of Lethbridge.  A few days later got a call to say I had been offered a job with the Faculty of Arts Modern Languages Department as a Teaching Assistant for German Language.

Q: What was the biggest difference between the German and Canadian post-secondary educational system that you noticed?

The biggest difference was the fees that Canadian students pay.  In Germany, I used to pay approximately $1000 Canadian Dollars (CAD) per semester for tuition fees.  These fees were introduced approximately 10 years ago and have recently been dropped by the government.  Now, German students have to pay around $400 CAD per semester, which covers administration fees, a public transit pass, and a “culture ticket” which is used for discounts for things such as concerts, theater plays, and museum admissions.  It was a shock to learn that Canadian students pay an average of $4000 CAD per semester on tuition fees alone.

Q: What were some Canadian social conventions you learned from your students that surprised you?

While teaching, I learned that Canadian students don’t really know their own language (in grammatical terms).  On the other hand, it was good to see that there wasn’t as much cheating in Canada as there is in Germany.  I think I learned more from outside the university in every day life, and it helped that I was already familiar with most of the customs from my trip to Australia and visits to England.  I found that Canadians in general are very friendly and they always say sorry.

Q: How did a semester off affect your course progress when you returned to Germany?

I had originally intended to return and finish my Master’s in Education but now I am considering going into the Teacher Training Program immediately.  With all the practice I got through the TA position I feel a lot more confident in teaching students.  The Master’s program (which is 2 years) is meant to teach you a lot of theory before going into Teacher Training (this takes an additional 18 months), which you need to pass in order to become a qualified teacher in Germany.  During those 18 months you teach classes under supervision.  The general belief is that it is very stressful and many supervisors are unfriendly with unrealistic expectations.  I now have experience with teaching English to a class and I feel a lot more confident about this aspect of my studies.

Q: Would you recommend a similar work abroad program to other students?

The year in Canada was the best year of my life so far.  I had the chance to broaden my horizons and I learned a lot both personally and professionally.  As I was teaching a class at a university all by myself, it was very difficult to return to Germany and become a student again.  It took me an entire semester to ease back in to this new role and get used to studying again.  Despite this, I would definitely recommend this program to other students, and I would encourage them to check with their university or college to see if they can get course credits while overseas.  Living abroad is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m very grateful that I took it.

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