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On Accents and Speaking a Foreign Language

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Have you ever felt frustrated when nobody understood you or slightly annoyed when someone made fun of you because of your accent? I have seen that frustration among my international friends. Sometimes I experience it with refugee clients of mine in my current social work internship. And yes, I have been there myself as a foreign student. Not only are we asked to adapt to a different culture and academic system, we have to master our conversing in a foreign language in a way that people understand us. My self-consciousness about my accent and way of speaking got me to the point that I would fear doing presentations in front of the class.

How did I overcome that anxiety? For one, I often asked myself why there should be a subtle emphasis on conforming to one unique way of pronouncing and speaking in a foreign language. Wouldn't it actually be boring if we as international students all spoke the same way in a foreign language? Instead we should embrace our way of speaking because our accent and culture make us who we are. Why should we deny something that is part of us and makes us unique?
To give you a personal example, it was a running gag among my best American friends for some time I that I couldn't pronounce the word squirrel. My friends helped me realize that I shouldn't take the pronunciation matter so seriously and instead take it with a sense of humor. Eventually, I laughed with my friends whenever they were amused about my accent because my pronunciation mishaps made them happy. After all, I was there to learn a new language and making mistakes during the learning process is normal. Moreover, learning and speaking a foreign language should be fun and never a chore.

I also realized that in the end I shouldn't focus so much on my accent, but on the overall message I want to get across in my communication. This important point is best summarized in an essay by Chinua Achebe about African authors writing in a foreign language: "So my answer to the question: Can an African ever learn English well enough to be able to use it effectively in creative writing? is certainly yes. If on the other hand you ask: Can he ever learn to use it like a native speaker? I should say, I hope not. It is neither necessary nor desirable for him to do so. The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use. The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience." Consequently, always keep in mind that there is diversity in the English language of how you can communicate and express yourself.

Now I am not saying that we as international students shouldn't improve our English proficiency or if we want to work on our public speaking skills, by all means, we should all go ahead and seek out opportunities to do so. I remember an important lesson from a French teacher at my German high school that one of the key parts about learning a new language successfully is the courage to speak and practice it with others in public. We have a great German saying for that: "Uebung macht den Meister (A master arrives where he is at through exercise)."

But if you are still in doubt about yourself and your way of speaking, then please stop for a moment and give yourself a pat on the back. We all need to remind ourselves that we are making an effort in speaking another person's language in order to communicate with them. It says a lot about us that we are putting a lot of work into learning other people's languages and cultures, it reveals that we care deeply about communicating with the people in the host country and that we respect their language and culture. So...never forget this.

This is all from me today. Embrace the opportunity to learn and converse in a new language, make it a fun experience and laugh about your mistakes because they make you human. Also, please do me a favor and check out the following clip, you may or may not have walked in this guy's shoes before. Bis demnaechst und haltet die Ohren steif, my friends.

Dedicated to Dr. J., all of my international friends and all international students

Managing that thing called FINALS WEEK

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As we are moving closer towards the final stage of this semester, I am sure many of you find yourself among the masses of students for whom the end can't come soon enough. Many of you are in the process of finishing final group work, papers, quizzes and undergoing exams soon. And maybe you are in the same boat as me and are experiencing the occasional Homer Simpson Freak-out mode.

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But don't you worry, y'all, in times like these it's always good to remember that it will be over soon and when that day comes you can look at the gigantic hill you climbed through your persistence. And on that day, you can pat yourself on the shoulder and be proud of yourself for making it through another semester and one step closer to your degree.

As someone who has gone through it all in this academic system for the past 5.5 years, I have always found it useful to develop different strategies to get myself through the final stage of every semester and its accompanying madness.

1)Take some time out while studying to do a few breathing exercises to regain composure and get your thoughts back in order. Sit down in a comfortable position or lie down for a few minutes, if needed.
2) If you are the type of person that doesn't like be distracted, find a quiet environment to complete your studies and final projects. If your apartment or dorm isn't the ideal type, university libraries are usually a good place to start at.
3) If however, you are sick of being stuck in your residence cut off from the rest of the world and crave being around people, follow my friend and fellow ambassador Angela Castro's advice and find a coffee shop. Apart from the amiable atmospheres you find in the Twin Cities' coffee shops, you also have an accessible supply of caffeine and other delicacies.
4) Have some chocolate (highly recommend the German ones simply out of personal bias ;) )-Always a sweet stress reliever. Even research has proven it time and again.
5) If time permits, engage in some exercise to get the stress out of your system. Even a short walk and some fresh air can do you good.
6) Remember the funny health insurance guy from your international student orientation? Yes, massages are great and indeed a good resource to contemplate for some relaxing quality time before you take on your finals.
7) And my personal favorite: Set up a reward system for yourself to keep yourself motivated. B.F. Skinner once demonstrated it so well with his pigeons that positive reinforcement reinforces positive behavior. Reward your endeavors with something you like and enjoy, say a favorite activity. I know that laughter can be one of the best medicines to get the endorphins going. So, after long hours of studying, finishing up a paper or group project I usually like to treat myself to an episode of Family Guy, Community or Scrubs.
8) And of course, feel free to expand on this list by leaving some comments on this blog. I am always eager to learn new strategies to manage the challenges of finals week
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That's all from me tonight, my friends. I would like to finish this blog with a suitable quote from the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

"Dass etwas schwer ist, muss ein Grund mehr sein, es zu tun."

Good luck with your finals and all other projects. Take care and see you all soon.

Useful resources to consider before applying for internships or jobs

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For some of you it may be the time of the year that you are looking for internship opportunities or are preparing for job interviews. You may have already gotten some work done on your cover letter or resume. Some of you may be doing these things for the first time which is why it can always be beneficial to get a second opinion to better prepare yourselves. Last year I did an internship at an employment service of a non-profit agency and thus learned a lot about the benefits of having a marketable resume, cover letter and good interviewing skills; all of which you can obtain through job counseling.

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Luckily, the university has many useful resources to help prepare students for the job market once they graduate or if they look for some work experiences while still in school. For international students in particular, the International Student Scholar Service offers useful resources. Appointments can be made with a counselor where students can learn how to write a resume, receive feedback on their resumes, learn how to prepare for an interview or schedule a mock interview in order to prepare for the actual one and much more. In addition, special career services for the students' college departments are also available that provide the same type of services and help prepare them for starting careers in their field of interest.
But even before you access these services you can prepare a lot on your own as well, such as by accessing resume and cover letter writing tips, reviewing interviewing strategies and looking through suggestions on how to prepare for interviews; all of which can be found online. What's more is that the university also hosts a job and internship fair where students can meet employers of interest for job or internship opportunities. For more information on the fair, potential employers that will attend, or how you can prepare yourself for the fair itself, please consult the following link.

Other useful lessons that I learned from my internship is that it never hurts to look for opportunities to expand your resume and working experience. As you are well aware by now, the university and the Twin Cities offer numerous opportunities for students to be involved. Never hesitate to join a student organization or get some volunteer experience that can later benefit the outline of your resume. These can provide you with new skills and experiences that you can later bring into a position you are applying for. In addition, finding out what makes you unique and what your strengths are never hurts to know when you think about how you are going to present yourself in the actual job interview.

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Good luck with the applications, interviews and make sure you use some of the resources available here for you. Until next time, my friends and have a happy Thanksgiving.

An Ambassador's perspective on the presidential elections

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Everything got quiet suddenly with everyone seeming to hold their breath. We were tightly packed together in a gym hall with blue signs of "Hope" and "Change we can believe" flaring across the crowd. Then out of the speakers blasted U2's song "City of Blinding Lights" and the crowd of students and community members erupted into a jubilant choir of cheers upon his arrival: Barack Obama.

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Back in February of 2008 I had the opportunity to hear Obama speak during his campaign trail for the Presidency. It was a surreal, cool event to see a charismatic political figure give an eloquent speech only several meters away from you. Of course, one couldn't help but being taken in by the crowd's passion along with Obama's charisma, charm, humor and outstanding oratory skills. At the end of his speech Obama made the rounds toward the crowd and fortunately, I had the chance to shake his hand twice (I still enjoy bragging about it to my American friends :)). To this day I think that that was one of the coolest events in my college career.

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In my 6 years of being here I had the privilege to witness two presidential elections. Overall, I have always found the time of elections here very interesting, in particular when it comes to the expression of preference for a candidate. It's not like every day that you suddenly see yard signs with political slogans or candidates' names decorating peoples' front lawns and properties. Whenever you drive or walk through the streets you can't help but noticing the multitude of bumper stickers glaring at you from passing cars. In addition, it's a time when you can encounter many political ads in social media, TV and radio and it's always fun to see how creative both campaigns tend to get with their messages.

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Apart from the candidates and slogans, I also enjoy the effects that the elections have on the people. One thing I have always appreciated deeply about the elections is the amount of passion and energy that is emanated from campaign volunteers, mostly consisting of students and community members. Often you see them on campus or in the community, spending countless, unpaid hours handing out literature or encouraging fellow citizens to register and vote in the elections. Back In 2008 I volunteered along some of them to knock on people's doors to remind them and obtain their pledge to vote in the election. It was a great feeling to do something for the common good with other Americans.


One may wonder then why as an international student who can't vote in this country I care about the elections here. For one, it's the fact that the selection of the next president will also affect the relationship with the leaders of my country and will have an impact on foreign policy in general. More so, I come from a household where being informed and having discussions about politics is important. Consequently, I enjoy hearing peoples' opinions and take on the politics that occur in their country. I remember having some of the best, profound conversations about politics with American friends of mine because they often asked for my opinions and views on the elections. Sometimes these conversations could become heated and emotional when disagreements occurred. But with all fruitful and healthy debates, we could all agree at the end of day to respect each other's' opinions and appreciate the opportunities for an enlightening discussion with insight into another person's beliefs.

Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that if you have a chance to talk politics with people here don't hesitate to do so because it's a great way to explore people's passions and beliefs. My experience has always been that they also like to hear a foreign perspective on their elections or on politics in general. And if you have the chance to see a politician or candidate speak, don't hesitate to do so because it can be another insightful American experience for you. Make sure to check the news on Tuesday because it's probably going to be one of the tightest and most exciting elections in U.S. history. Until next time, my dear friends.

Stop by here for some marvelous German cuisine!!!!

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Servus! I knew that I had scored big time when I first moved to Minneapolis and discovered that my apartment was only two blocks away from a German restaurant. Most of you may agree with me that there are certain things from your home country that you can't get in the States and once in a while you crave them really badly. But the Black Forest Inn helps me satisfy those cravings once in a while.

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I was very impressed with their menu when I went there for the first time as it has an extensive array of traditional German dishes, such as Sauerbraten, Bratwurst, Schnitzel, Spaetzle, Apfelstrudel etc. For meat lovers this is a real treat as Germany is famous for its meat-based cuisine. One of my favorite dishes there is their Veal Jaeger Schnitzel with red cabbage and Spaetzle. In general, I highly recommend that you try any of their dishes that feature their Spaetzle or Bratwurst as these are home-made according to the German recipe. Overall, the menu itself may a bit pricey for college students but let me assure you that you will definitely get what you pay for due to the excellent quality of the food served. Both international and American friends that I took with me always had a good experience there.


For those of you who are 21 and older and are beer connoisseurs like me, you can also look forward to a magnificent selection of delicious German, European and local beers at this restaurant. On top of that, the Black Forest Inn also features a beautiful beer garden. Coupled with the restaurant's cozy atmosphere, their beer garden is a nice place for hanging out, enjoying a cold beverage and having some good conversations with friends during the summer.

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In addition, if you are looking into learning a little more about German traditions and festivities, this is also a suitable place to go to. The Black Forest Inn hosts events, such as Oktoberfest, Spargelfest, a Christmas market, Fasching, and many more. Some of these events also include live music and dancing. Anyway, this is all from me today. I hope to see some of you over there some time. Until next time, my friends. Auf Wiedersehen.

Moinsen

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No worries, everyone, that alligator is not real :)!
Moin, moin, my dear friends. My name is David Steinfeld and I am a 2nd year Master of Social Work student from Germany. During my undergraduate career I worked as a mentor for international students which was one of the best jobs I ever had. Hence, I am very excited to be the new graduate student ambassador leader and to have another opportunity that involves serving the interests of international students.

My overall time spent studying abroad in the U.S. encompasses a total of 6 years. I spent a high school exchange year in Wisconsin and enjoyed it so much that I decided to return to the Midwest for my college career. To this day, I have been very grateful for this decision as I have had some of the best years of my life here.

So, why did I choose the Twin Cities for graduate school? For one, the university has a very good ranking overall and its social work program has been deemed one of the best in the nation. But more so, the Twin Cities has been a drawing pool for international populations, thus making it a very diverse place with an international appeal. For example, I live close to Minneapolis' famous 'Eat Street' which features many restaurants with delicious food from all over the world. You can also find many ethnic grocery stores in the Twin Cities area. I was overcome with joy when I discovered that they sell German chocolate around here because let's face it, chocolate can be one of the best stress relievers in college. Last but not least, the people here are very polite and friendly which creates a welcoming and comforting environment for new international students.

Anyway, this is all from me for now, my dear friends. More blogs will come in the future. In the meantime, feel free to ask me any questions and I am happy to be of assistance. Take care and have a nice day.

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