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It’s All Foreign to Me: Semester Breaks

US and German flags

US and German flags

This is one in a series of posts on ways I have discovered that Germany and America are different. See the end of this post for other posts on this topic.

This past week was the first week of the summer semester. After 7-weeks of wonderful free days, days that were my own, school has started again.

So anyway, most German universities are on a two-semester system, unlike most American universities, which are on a three-semester system. Less semesters in a year equals more “off time” for teachers. Gotta say, I loved it. And I’m sad it’s over.

German University Schedule: Two Semesters

The German winter semesters start in mid-October and last until early February, with a two-week break for Christmas. Then, there is a seven- or eight-week semester break until early April, when the summer semester starts again. Summer semester goes until early July. (This year, it ends right on July 4th, actually! So while you’re home shooting fireworks and celebrating our National Holiday, I’ll be thinking of all those fireworks and celebrating both the birth of our great nation and the end of my first full year at Justus-Liebig-Universität!) The next winter semester doesn’t start until mid-October, which means almost a 3 1/2-month break. Totally sweet.

Here at my university, classes meet once a week for 90 minutes, and the semesters here last 14 or 15 weeks. That means I have about 22 1/2 hours with my students each semester.

American University Schedule: Three Semesters

American universities have fall semesters from mid-August until the first or second week of December. Then there’s a two- or three-week Christmas break. The spring semester starts mid-January, there’s a week-long spring break somewhere in the middle, and then it ends in early May. Another three-week break, then the beginning of the summer semester, which runs from early June until late July or early August. Three-week break, the start of a new fall semester.

American universities—well, at least the one I’m most familiar with—hold classes two or three times a week. Most of the classes meet two or three times a week for a total of 2 1/2 hours, and semesters usually last about 16 weeks. That means classes meet about 40 hours in a semester. Needless to say, I feel like every minute counts here in Germany because I have about half the time I was used to having with my students.

But Why the Long Breaks?

Unlike American university students, German “Uni” (that’s “EW-knee”, “ew” as in “Ew, gross, Daniel! Don’t lick the cat!”) students take big oral and written exams during the breaks. They also have to finish term papers. Some of them do internships in between semesters without missing any classes. Others will take advantage of the long summer break by visiting a foreign country and taking classes at a university.

So here I sit, at the end of a wonderfully relaxing 7-week break, looking forward to 14 weeks of classes, grading, and students. Now, don’t get me wrong, the break wasn’t all traveling and Kinder chocolate all day long. I spent most of the break preparing for new classes (General Language Course and a Writing 2 for term papers) and working on my dissertation! But I sure did love making my own hours and working from home, where I could be with my sweet hubby while he worked, instead of just chatting with him from my work computer like I do during the semester. I sure can say that I would love it if we both had jobs where we could work from home. (Rob’s a pretty focused and hard worker, so we actually did get a lot of work done!)

I’m looking forward to a great semester, although I have realized that the one thing a writing teacher will never be free of (grading!) is not my favorite duty as a teacher. :)

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5 thoughts on “It’s All Foreign to Me: Semester Breaks

  1. Linden

    29 Jul on 2008 at 11:17

    @jackie: Man, that sounds nice! Did they extend the semester three weeks, too?

  2. jkenny

    17 Jun on 2008 at 21:09

    When I was a student in Erlangen in 1974, it was during the energy crisis and when we came back mid-April, they didn’t want to turn on the heat, so gave us 3 more weeks vacation!

  3. Linden

    07 Apr on 2008 at 8:33

    @sarah jo: You crack me up!!

    @charity: *shocked* How does one “forget” about Kinder chocolate? Your comment is inconceivable to me… :)

  4. Charity

    05 Apr on 2008 at 18:45

    Ugh – I had TOTALLY forgotten about Kinder chocolate. Yummy-yummy!

  5. Sarah Jo

    05 Apr on 2008 at 12:41

    Ha ha! You said, “love making”!

    Just so you know, my mind is always in the gutter. :)