Letters from Germany – “First impressions of Karlsruhe in lockdown as an International Student” by Chanthalakone Souydalay (SKU)
My name is Chanthalakone Souydalay (nickname “Thon”), I am 29 years old and I am a volunteer teacher in Faculty of Linguistics and Humanities, Savannakhet University (SKU), Laos. More specifically, I come from the Southern of Laos, I live near the city of Pakxé that is called the “Land of 4000 islands” (“Si Phan Don”).
“ສີ່ພັນດອນ (Si Phan Don)”
Currently, I have been teaching as a volunteer teacher for three years in SKU. I am really passionate on teaching and love English language because of it can help to know more cultural and open my mind to become more international. Even though there is no compensation for my teaching, I am very happy to be a part to improve students for faculty at SKU to comprehend in English skills.
I am quite obviously hard-working for being volunteer teacher due to it is not just teaching. Moreover, I am responsible for overseeing student extracurricular activities, repairing computers, teaching basic English for students who have no chance at the weekend. The students come from countryside and poverty family who interested in English learning, but they do not have some money for paying. I feel for them, so I decided to organised the basic English course that they can enroll and register for free learning on the weekend.
As I also need to earn a living I work as part-time job at night. After I finish my duty in SKU at 4:30 p.m and then I also work as football referee of small field in the central of Savannakhet city. I always start at 5:00 p.m to 9:30 p.m every weekday. I love sports and I am never tired.
I am truly grateful to the leadership of Mobility Program between the Savannakhet University (SKU) and Karlsruhe University of Education, under scholarship to Erasmus Plus. Again, I deeply thank you for giving a good opportunity and everything that all of you do allows me to continue to pursue my passions. Because, studying abroad is the biggest dream and great time of my life. Furthermore, it is still many aspirations of Asian people to go studying in European countries.
My Erasmus+ mobility stay in Karlsruhe
I was really excited to be an exchange student in Germany even though during covid-19 I had to settle to the new conditions and culture of life across the continents from the home-country. It was also my first flight. I wore the mask all the time in the airport and I was a little bit worried about the infection of the corona.
I arrived at Karlsruhe city, Germany, at 17:00 p.m. on 3 May 2020, and I would stay here for six months of being an exchange student. Miss Katrine Haavardsholm, Miss Anne Woetzel (my “buddy”) and Ms Julia Friedl (Akademisches Auslandsamt – International Office) went to pick me up at the Karlsruhe train station and also help me in running official documents. I also thank my buddy to walk me seeing the Karlsruhe view, direction of the city, shopping, shops, and restaurants for having first dinner with the pizza.
4 – 9 March 2020: My first week in Karlsruhe, Germany
Today is Wednesday, 3 June 2020, that I already have been living for 3 months in Karlsruhe, Germany. Actually, I do not have enough vocabulary to share all my excitement and great opportunity. On the other hand, the three months pass by very quickly, but I can say that it is one of the most impressive, unimaginable, and also the unforgettable period of experiences in my life. There are many things that I have done in here that they were very satisfiable for me as I gained a lot of life and learning experience to present about big highlight below.
4 March 2020 was the first time of my life to study in the European country (Germany). I was obviously scared and worried at the first because I had to settle a new life and also dread of Covid 19 pandemic. But, when I met my pretty buddy that her name is Miss Katrine Haavardsholm and professor Isabel Martin, who gave a great opportunity to me, I really feel very happy when I met them due to they gave a huge smile and helped running official documents included advising how to spend time in daily life here and then I had felt Germany is as my second hometown.
It was this moment that I knew I would be welcomed and loved during my stay in Karlsruhe. I was very great that Dr. Isabel Martin invited me and Mr Phongsavang Xaikhongkham (my Lao colleague) to go for a walk in the “Citypark” and then for coffee at her house. We walked nearly completely around in the park and kept talking. I was really fascinated with this place because of its nice place and there were more visitors came to exercise, sightseeing and relaxing.
I luckily came to Germany in the spring season that it’s a very good time to enjoy with blooming flowers around the city. My very first feeling in Karlsruhe was what I had expected: in the spring season, the weather was very cold for me. Mostly spring in Laos was the about 30 degrees, but it is 2 degrees with the raining in here.
Greet to know international Classmates in German class – a distant language for Lao students
The first day at PH Karlsruhe University of Education was German basic course, where I got to know international students who was a recipient Erasmus+ program. There were 14 students included me that they came from all over the world are as China, Turkey, Greece, Israel, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Pakistan and Laos. My first class was really fun and a little bit complicated with German langue due to I did not have basic knowledge about it before.
For the first month I studied German language for 6 hours per day, 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon on the weekday. Ms Renata Gutting was a staff member of the PH Karlsruhe University of Education who was teaching me and my classmates. She was very friendly and cheerful meanwhile teaching that my friends were very happy about studying.
Moreover, she suggested the basic methods of learning. However, German was exactly difficult and distant language (different one language or dialect is from another in every way) to my native language, but I was enthusiastic in learning new things especially language. At first, I just practiced vocabulary, listening and speaking for the basic conversation. And after the class I rewrote the words and translated into English to be able to see them. It is more difficult for me to remember and pronounced words correctly because of the sounds were produced differently from Lao language – in the mouth and not in the throat. Whatever, I hope my German would be better during 3 months left of being Exchange Student.
My wonderful weekends
Well! Let me tell you about something that I have done for the quarantine days. I had wonderful weekends in here, even though the corona virus was spreading situation. During the first week in Germany Lockdown the country that I was really boring to spend time inside the dormitory all day. But, I was thankful to Dr. Isabel Martin suggesting me to know Ms Beate Pinisch (“Anna” she is called in Lao language). Beate Pinisch, she is a secretary that now she works at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and has also written on this blog.
She is a really nice lady, friendly and she worked in Laos more than 20 years. When I met her the first time, I was very impressive on her due to she could speak Lao very fluently. She also taught me how to ride the bicycle and then we cycled out in the forest together to pick Allium Ursinum known as wild Garlic in English. It was a family of Amaryllidaceae and the taste is similar of general garlic. It’s tasty for fried and fermented with some salts.
I am also a person who passion in playing Boules (Petanque in French). I have begun playing it when I was a freshman in the SKU until now. I was happy to get to know Thaithanawanh’s friend that he was super good at playing. His name is Mr Philippe Luong, he is a Lao, and he was born in Vientiane (capital city of Laos) but he moved to France when he was a child. Currently, he lives and works in Karlsruhe.
He is outgoing and very kind person to me, he gave me the balls (Boules). We played it together whenever we were available and I very enjoyed playing with him. We sometime had dinner out in the restaurant nearly shopping street.
I also have met Mr Martin Schoebinger, he is another of Isabel’s friends. He is a German and works in Karlsruhe and also worked in the LGTC project. He especially kind to me and I feel that he was my brother due to he always helped and provided appliances for example a bicycle. Furthermore, he still organized my weekend trip by cycling and driving outside of the city. He drove me to the Calw city, it is a very nice city and I really like the styles of the houses in there. The Calw is cultural and tourism town that there are many visitors coming to visit and also go hiking. We spent most of the day for hiking, saw the view of downtown and had a great picnic.
In my free time after class, I often played the guitar (Prof. Martin organised for me) and wrote the song because of it managed my stress. I was really relaxing and enjoyable that my favorite song is “Let her go”, it is my favorite English song and I always sing by the guitar.
My favorite song “Let her go”
Next, let me tell you about the activities that I did with my flatmates. There are normally 9 people in my apartment but unfortunately some of them went back to their home in the period of quarantine day off. So, there were only 3 people left have stayed in the apartment, we sometime played game after dinner and went for a walk in the castle of Karlsruhe. I really had fun and made friends in such a short time. On the other hand, they also taught me how to cook Pasta and Maultaschen. It is easy for cooking, quite similar how to make the noodle soup in Laos.
I still had a great day in staying in Germany. As my German friend and he was also my buddy to picked me up to the Rhine river for cycling and had yummy picnic food near the lake called (Eggenstein). His name is Mr David Schrep who was the first Internship and Teaching English for the teacher in academic year 2018-2019 at SKU, Laos. I was so excited and really happy to meet him again at here.
I was very grateful to Dr. Isabel Martin, Miss Phi Ha Nguyen, she was a part of Team IX and Miss Celine Victoria who was a part of Team X invited me for having yummy lunch and dinner. The table was served with German food, fruit juice, elderberry syrup and some dessert. It was the first time for me to have a meal with the foreigner families. I really have fun and felt having a great meal with my families. Furthermore, their family were welcome and provided very delicious food for me.
COVID-19 Precautions & Preventive Steps
Of course, it could be difficult by the way of living at the pandemic spreading time. In the first month of covid-19 infection affected life many ways, because of not allowed to go outside more than 2 people. Moreover, shops were closed, but excepting some restaurants and the supermarket opened. Even though the restaurants was permitted, we could not eat in there that only ordered or packed back to the house. The government of the city and related parties demanded the population staying home if you can.
Hence, I went to shop two times per week in the supermarket, I had to get ready for prevention virus are at putting the mask and the gloves including cleaning the hands before entered the shops. At that time, I felt being super hero like actors in Hollywood movies. It was really strange for me meanwhile shopping, the shop was empty and the people keep distance of two metres from each other. Moreover, I spent a little bit time in the shop as possible due to I wrote the list of foods that I need to buy on the paper note.
I really love learning a new things and open my mind to become more international, especially cultural and languages. I took 8 courses for English and Intensive German course during the summer semester of being exchanged student here. Unfortunately, this semester was only Online-learning or digital platform has become the way of teaching-learning. Of course, I have not experienced before and a little bit complicated to me. I could say that everything was new for me.
Also, my professors were fluent in English and uses academic words, so I studied quite hard to comprehend the lessons. Currently, I am able to adjust to school and struggle to get better during time left of exchange student here.
My supervisor and favorite teacher
My special person was very special. I met her during the partnership in my University (SKU) around 2,5 years ago on her second visit to SKU. She is the leader and facilitator of the project. Her name is Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin that I was appreciated to give a good opportunity to be an exchange student here.
She was also specially kind to me, helped, and teaching to adjust new life. She treated me with love and warmth and called me “son”. I really want to become a teacher like her someday who acts out of true love and care for students. I was impression on her that she was very punctual, serious, honest and outgoing person.
Moreover, I could say that she is an executive chef due to she cooked very delicious food. She often cooked and offered me a new German food, I really enjoyed with her food. My favorite food is “Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce” the taste is a little bit sweet and its young shoots are used as a spring vegetable, It looks similar of bamboo in Asia.
At the lastly, I would like to thank you very much to host Erasmus+ KA107 program, (Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany) and my (Savannakhet University, Laos). My special thanks go to Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin to give me such a wonderful opportunity. I would like thank you to all people I have a chance meeting, supporting and invited me to do great activities.
Text by C. Souydalay (“Thon”)
Photos by I. Martin, M. Schobinger, J. Friedl, K. Haavardsholm, P. Xaikhongkham & C. Souydalay