Yesterday, I left Hamburg at 6.45 a.m. to go to Kiel, a city 100 kilometres north. Unlike Hamburg, Kiel still has a university department that teaches Swedish, or rather Scandinavistics, and there I was called to do the TISUS exam. TISUS is recognised by all the universities in Sweden as a statement of eligibility regarding Swedish language proficiency. Unfortunately, the test started at 8.30 a.m., so I was dead tired when I, together with two others, started reading the texts about “torv” (english: turf) as part of the reading comprehension.
It felt just like being back in school and writing a long exam. In German schools, students write six 2-hour-exams every year in every subject (usually you have 10 to 15 subjects, I guess). With a school system like that, you develop exam-skills that you at the latest need when you write your Abitur, the A-Levels, that make you endure four 6-hour-exams. You learn what to eat,
how to cheat, how to study, and most importantly how to manage your time. When I was in high school, I always had a watch with me and when I got my sheet of tasks, I – even though maths is not my strength – calculated at which time I should be done with which task in order to complete the entire assignment. Well, interestingly enough, these competences seem to be forgotten by the brain after some years. University meant writing long complex papers instead of putting knowledge onto a paper under time pressure (#bulimiastudying). So yesterday when the instructor said, “Ni har tre minuter kvar!” (You have three minutes left), I had ten unanswered questions…Luckily, I work okay under pressure and managed to scribble down the answers to “Who can get legal aid?” (Not all texts were about turf…).
TISUS consists of the reading comprehension, an oral exam and an essay. The essay had a political topic asking about “global development, is the world changing for better or worse?” In early stages of high school, we used to first write our notes, then write the entire essay as a draft to then copy the whole thing in the neatest handwriting. I considered that yesterday but deemed the time to short. So instead I found myself taken back in time to 13th grade where one wrote all these little asterixs because “ah, I forgot to mention this” and the words above other words because “I guess this needs a preposition”. It was really just like being back in school!
Given the political topic, I got a bit carried away I guess, phrases like “leva på andras bekostnad” (to live on others’ expenses), “klyftorna ökar” (the social gap grows) as well as “miljöproblem”(environmental problems) and”rättvis handel” (fair trade) lined up in my 711 words. (Remember counting words in your essays in the end of an exam? So terribly annoying.) I might blame my friends for my green-left plea that I submitted, or differently phrased: Josefine will be proud of me! And Magdalena. And Martina. And Annika. Nils as well. You get the idea.
Something that is funny with me and languages, and especially the Swedish language, is that I have some kind of register even beyond passive vocabulary. The definition of passive vocabulary is that you understand when you see them but you do not actively use them. I have an instinctive vocabulary: I want to write something and in the very last corner of my mind I find a word, like huruvida, and I am not even sure if the word exists and unsure whether it means what I think it means at all. And then in 99% of cases, it turns out to exist and mean what I think. I never trust this guessing vocabulary though, I always think I’ll make a fool of myself next time I try. (I am more often wrong when it comes to articles, prepositions and conjugations. Can’t trust instinct there.)
The oral exam was on gender roles and I told the instructor about my all girls’ school, my female Swedish bosses and how German men usually don’t dress as elegantly as Swedes. This time, I made sure I had my phone counting the minutes. When I took my oral Abitur exam, I spoke so quickly that I was done with the assignment in 7 instead of 25 minutes and the teacher had to start asking me questions about a topic that was not on the agenda. That didn’t happen this time! 😉
The room we were sitting in was albeit being borderline filthy, a paradise for me: lots of Swedish language books and beautiful posters for scientific gatherings. The thing that impressed me most at Kiel university was the art on their library, the writing “Some glow” and on the other corner, “When you read them”. So beautiful, so poetic, so true.