Two weeks ago, I participated in the intensive introductory course provided by the computational linguistics (COLI) department (formally, the Language Science & Technology department) at Universität des Saarlandes (UdS). It took up most of the day from 8:30 – 17:00 (with a 1.5 hour lunch in between). I would describe the intensive course more like an intro to linguistics course, so I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know from my bachelor’s degree. Most things are explained much better and in more detail in videos online than in this class.
Normal classes started last week, and I attended nearly ALL of them, because I still haven’t pinned down my schedule. Overall, we covered a bunch of basic background things that I either knew already, or knew once. There were just a few new topics, and for those, the videos available online were better at explaining things than my classes.
Anyway, in general, the last couple weeks covered:
- Intro to phonetics, phonology, morphology, and syntax
- Formal grammar hierarchy (especially context-free grammars)
- Intro to named entity extraction
- Precision and recall
- Surprisal and entropy
- Huffman codes
- First-order predicate logic
Finally, I am taking an intermediate German class and a beginning Italian class. In German class, we introduced each other in German. In Italian class we introduced each other… in German– yea… I’m hoping the Italian class picks up a bit more, obviously, but hey, at least I am really good at introducing other people in German now!
Although classes have mostly started out at a basic level, there were a few seminars that really dove into the nitty gritty, without much explanation at all. My impression is that the system here seems to really support the sink-or-swim ideal. Unlike in the US, if you fall behind here it’s your problem.
In some ways this is good since you are pushed to your limits and you learn a lot on your own. In some ways it’s bad, because if your learning style doesn’t fit this kind of teaching or if you expect lots of help, it might be hard to get it. For example, when talking about the requirement to read and discuss all of the papers, one of the seminar profs literally said (this is a direct quote), “If you don’t want to, please, don’t come, I really encourage you not to.” When asked about how much does each part of the work contribute to the grading system, his response was “pffffff…” Basically, if you don’t want to learn, don’t slow down the people that do.
So in general, the focus is definitely on learning rather than grading, but at the same time, there are these finals that loom at the end of the year, that your entire grade is actually based off of… so I’m really not sure how that will go.
Outside of class, the week before last, I also discovered a few more food buying options. The first one is a permanent market in an underground passageway called the “Diskonto Passage.” For weeks, I had been walking past this underground passageway, somehow mentally associating it with a street crossing or a subway entrance (of course, Saarbrücken has no subway), and I’m not the only one. Well, it turns out it’s actually a wonderful market with lots different vendors, including a bio grocery, an Asian market, a vegetable market, a meat market, an electronics store and so on.
The second store I found is an expensive grocery store in the basement of the Karstadt department store, the main advantage of which is that it contains fresh fish (something that is mostly lacking in other stores here). Both are conveniently located in the center of town, but Edeka, though farther from me, is still the nicest place to shop overall.
Finally, I also discovered the weekly Saturday farmer’s market (picture at the top) so I can get fresh seasonal veggies each week while supporting the local community. Yay!
Tuesday was a holiday, so we went to see a documentary called “Hummus! The Movie.” It was a multilingual Hebrew/ Arabic/ English movie, with German subtitles, and there was a hummus party offered afterwards (the hummus was mediocre, but the wine was amazing). With all the stress of planning my schedule, this was a very nice mid-week break. Unfortunately, I proceeded to get quite sick in the latter half of the week which completely killed all of my socialization plans for the rest of the week and I missed some other fun outings… so I’m quite bummed out about that.
By the way, last week, I also managed to pin down a job hiring (I have to go in and discuss the contract now) for a research assistant position, which is called a HiWi (Hilfswissenshaftler) in German. It sounds like the job will involve translating one annotation scheme to another, obviously speeding the work up by scripting wherever possible, but with some manual checking over the annotations as well. I’m not sure that it sounds particularly interesting, and I would have liked to do something farther outside my comfort zone, but the competition is fierce right now, and I am happy to start with this. If some other opportunity crops up later, hopefully I will still have a chance to jump on that, but it will depend on my contract.
The cool thing is that in these two weeks I’ve started to get to know some of the people in my program, and a few people from other departments around school as well. Everyone I have met so far has been completely awesome. I just hope I won’t be too busy with schoolwork for social activities in the near future.
Being busy really does help keep costs down. I still spent more than I had to on food by completely spoiling myself as usual, but I cooked a lot to ensure I had lunches, so it’s to a more reasonable range now. However, there are a few larger future purchases I’m planning; I just have to figure out what the top priority is, since I only have a little bit of Amazon gift card funds left and I don’t want to go over budget now.
- €15 – eating out
- €10 – fill up the student card to use for printing, emergency cafeteria meals, etc.
- €11.5 – another blanket (it’s cold now), and some small household items
- €60 – groceries
- €5 – movie and hummus dinner (good deal!)
- €45 – more groceries
- €20 – household items including a full-length mirror to satiate my vanity
- Total: €166.5