Wabash students in Prof. Eric Wetzel’s Biology of the Invertebrates course will do just that as they spend the week on South Water Caye, a small island 10 miles from the coast of Belize. South Water Caye is in the heart of a large Marine Reserve in the Caribbean and sits directly on Belize’s barrier reef.
Steven Peters ’16 – Traveling to another country, one tends to have certain expectations going in about the people of that country. Ask most people in the USA what they think is typical of the German people and likely their answers will be fairly similar. Germans are a lederhosen wearing people, throwing around large steins of beer, their vocal inflections carry an underlying hint of anger, and all they eat are large wursts (sausages). My younger sister even feared that I would face many rude Germans, because apparently they are a mean people. After studying the language and culture for two years, one comes to find that those stereotypes are not necessarily true. Despite that education, however, there is still that hope that some of those stereotypes will be seen. A benefit, then, of an immersion trip like this is to discover for yourself, by mingling with the people, what is in reality typical German.
Our trip to Neustadt, a small town near Marburg, gave me and my fellow classmates an experience which allowed us to see who the Germans really are as a people and to practice our language skills. Through connections that Erik Kile has with Neustadt residents, we received a personal tour of the historical sites by two local historians. One of them, Gerhard Bieker, hosted Erik’s aunt as an exchange student some 30 years ago, and the families have been close ever since. Herr Bieker quite literally wrote the book on Neustadt’s history (entitled Nova Civitas: Eine Wanderung durch die Geschichte der Stadt). Through him we gained full access to the curious 15th-century “Junker-Hansen-Turm” (tower) that looms over the town. He also got us into the old town hall and gave us a tour of the most historic parts of town. Another friend, Herr Krapp, gave us a tour of the town’s oldest Catholic Church (built between 1502 and 1517). He led us through the small space behind the high altar, took us up rickety stairs into the attic of the church, and showed us the air pumps that drive the organ. We got a more personal view of these old sites than one can typically get in more popular sites in tourist-filled cities.
After our tour we were greeted by Thomas Groll, the mayor of Neustadt, and our hosts grilled kilos of wurst supplied by the local butcher. A reporter took our picture with the mayor and the historians who guided us, and an article about our visit will appear in Oberhessische Zeitung, the region’s largest newspaper. This part of the trip to Neustadt was the most memorable and useful part for me in experiencing German culture and practicing skills used in class. Our generous hosts fed us wurst after delicious wurst and we were able to converse with the mayor and others in a stress free environment where we were not worried about saying the wrong thing or not being understood well enough. While some of us lingered over apple strudel, some of the group joined a group of local teenagers in a game of pick-up soccer at the adjacent part.
So what is typical German? It is impossible to fully understand a people after only one week living within their culture, but from what I experienced the Germans are a people who seem reserved on the surface, but if given the chance will show you the greatest hospitality, even if they do not know you, and fill your stomach with good food and your head with good conversation. We may not have seen any large Germans with a beer in one hand, and a rope of wurst around their neck, but what we did receive was a greater understanding of who the Germans are as a people and an opportunity to become more knowledgeable as a whole. –
Sean W. Scully ‘16 – The German people are fit, intellectual, and artistic; however, they seem to lack a sense of humor. In the one week that I have been here in Germany I have learned a great deal about the country and its people. I have come to appreciate the charismatic people of America much more having experienced this very different culture. I think that both countries can learn a lot about life from each other: the Germans can learn to not take life so seriously, while Americans can discover that there are greater things in life to appreciate like music, art, and poetry. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the greatest writer/poets in history, was born and raised in Frankfurt am Main, and I had the privilege of visiting his house yesterday.
I awoke to the pleasantly warm breeze coming through the open window in my apartment at around 7:45 with a gigantic smile as I realized it was the first day without language class since I arrived in Germany. I made a breakfast with coffee, yogurt, bread, and the best cheese I have ever tasted. We met at the train station at 8:30, which is when I realized that I needed to use the restroom. To my surprise, the bathroom mandated a payment of 1 Euro for its use! This seemed absurd to me and although I am not the most frugal person, I decided to wait. We boarded the train to Frankfurt and luckily found some seats.
The train system itself is an amazing feature of Europe. Being able to pay a few Euros and jump on a train to anywhere in Europe is incredible to me. As we arrived at the enormous train station in Frankfurt I witnessed a completely different side of Germany. Frankfurt is probably the most Americanized city in Germany. The skyscrapers that tower over the plethora of tourists from all nations give Frankurt am Main the nickname “Mainhattan.” Frankfurt is a center for world finance, and most of those skyscrapers are bank headquarters. One of the first buildings we passed by was the Central Bank of the European Union.
Our group was joined by Annemieke Klein, who will work at Wabash as the German Teaching Assistant next academic year, and Wabash juniors Pierce Velderman and Jesse Stuckwisch, who are both studying this semester in Vienna but took time to come visit us. Our first stop was the house where Goethe was born and raised. As we entered those hallowed grounds I thought: I’m finally going to find out why Dr. Redding has such an unhealthy obsession with the man! We learned a great deal about Goethe, his family, and the manner in which he lived his life. The halls were filled with beautiful antiques and portraits that seemed to tell their own stories. After we finished a historical scavenger hunt in Goethe’s childhood home, we moved next to the portrait gallery next door. Some of the most profound art I have ever seen lined the walls and garnered my full appreciation.
How could one go to Frankfurt and not eat a frankfurter!? After the Goethe Museum we made our way to the Römerberg, the huge central square of Frankfurt, for food and a short break. The first thing I saw there was a beautiful young couple emerging from the town hall, having just been married while all of their loved ones waited outside to congratulate them. As we stood in line to buy a frankfurter I gazed upon the mass of people in the square: people from all nations were there experiencing the beautiful city just as I was. An Italian man played seemingly the only song he knew on his accordion for the hour or so that we spent there. Out of nowhere a large rally began to form in the courtyard with all sorts of people peacefully advocating their beliefs. There was a Christian rally and a gay-rights demonstration happening simultaneously!
As the rally went on, we toured the Paulskirche. This church was the site of the first attempt to create a German democracy following the revolution of 1848. Delegates from all the German territories met here for most of a year to debate and write a new constitution that would form a parliamentary monarchy. Ultimately the attempt failed as the monarchy used that year to reconsolidate power. Many of the delegates, now marked as political dissidents, fled to America and did much to create the modern civil society that we enjoy.
Our next stop was another church, the Frankfurt Cathedral. There is something enthralling about being in a seven-hundred-year-old church that is relatively unchanged. Ornate images with Latin subtitles covered the walls while gorgeous crucifixes and statues graced the remaining areas. Here we saw the so-called Electoral Chapel where the seven electoral princes met to pray, debate, and ultimately elect the Holy Roman Emperor. After learning a good deal about the church, we had time if we wanted to climb the endless spiral staircase to the top of the cathedral tower. To save both a little bit of money and my calves, I decided instead to walk along the Main River. Here I witnessed yet more beautiful scenery. While everyone else was sweating their way up and down the tower, I retraced Goethe’s favorite walk across the bridge over the river. We congregated again as a group, walked to the train station, and headed back to Marburg.
Back at my apartment I cooked myself an amazing chicken and egg sandwich and went to sleep with another gigantic smile. Germany seems to me like one colossal painting of surreal beauty, with an aesthetic that one cannot truly grasp until experiencing it first-hand. I cannot wait until I study abroad here next spring and even possibly live here for a portion of my life. The experiences I have gained so far on this trip are priceless, as are the ones to come.
Paul Snyder ‘16 – As our German 202 immersion experience hits the one week mark, I pause to think about some of the things I have learned so far: 1) I often feel like I don’t know what I am doing. 2) Even the doors are different here. 3) There is more to Germany than beer and wurst. Although my first week trying to speak German in Germany has at times been difficult and frustrating, my overall impression is that the Germans are a very accepting people.
Today after our morning language class we hit the streets to learn about the Jewish history of Marburg. We began at the ruins of a synagogue that was built around the year 1319, but just 30 years later it was torn down by angry residents who blamed the Jews for a plague epidemic. The ancient excavated sanctuary is now a memorial, and we lingered there for a long time to discuss our text about Jewish Marburg. Like most people, when I thought about the Jews in Germany the first thing that would come to mind is the Holocaust, for obvious reasons. However, here I learned that the history of the Jews in Germany goes back much, much farther—and the discrimination against them does too.
During the reign of Philip the “Magnanimous” in the 1520s, laws were passed that prevented Jews from owning houses or land and restricted what jobs they could do. These laws were in many ways similar to those passed by the Hitler regime in the 1930s. This shows that the murderous policies of the Nazi era had their roots in a long history of discrimination, not just in Germany but throughout Europe.
In many German cities, including Marburg, you can find on the sidewalk small brass squares called “Stolpersteine”—stumbling stones. They are a memory project created by the artist Gunter Demnig to commemorate the lives of victims of the Nazi regime. He engraves the name and fate of a victim in a brass block about the size of a cobblestone, then sets it in place in front of houses where that person used to live. The idea is that a person walking along the sidewalk “stumbles” over the stone and remembers the person who could have once been their neighbor.
Each of us was assigned an address that had a Stolperstein in front of it, and we had to find it and gather the information prior to today’s discussion. My address led me to a grouping of 6 Stolpersteine that memorialized members of the Katz family who were sent to an extermination camp in Sobibor, Poland. The Katz family was murdered because they were Jewish, but we saw other stones for people who were killed for speaking out against Hitler, for listening to foreign radio stations, for being on the wrong end of the political spectrum, or for being schizophrenic. Although we can learn about these things in a classroom, it cannot have the same impact as standing at the front door of a Holocaust victim, seeing their pictures, hearing their stories, and visualizing what their life and death must have been like.
This dark history could easily lead one to argue against my earlier comment that the Germans of today seem to be a very accepting people. But daily life in Germany quickly reveals a commitment to tolerance and social justice. Not only do they very publicly confront past atrocities through memorials, commemorations, and public dialog, but they have enshrined into law the concept that modern Germany will be a safe haven for people who are oppressed because of things like faith or ethnicity. The immigration policies are also fairly generous, so on practically every corner there are shops marketing food and merchandise from many different nationalities. As further evidence, we ended our tour of Jewish Marburg on a positive note at the new synagogue, which currently serves a congregation of about 500 local Jews.
So where does all this reflection on contemporary Germany lead me? Well, for one thing I know now not to get too discouraged when I freeze up while ordering a Döner Kebab because the guy asked me what toppings I want on it, or when I can’t even figure out how to get into the bakery because the door doesn’t work like I think it should. Someone might laugh at me, but someone is more likely to kindly offer the help that I need. For all of the anxiety and missteps that I and our group made when we first got here, we are now successfully navigating German culture—with a little help from the people we interact with on a daily basis.
At Wabash we hear often that immersing oneself in another culture is the best way to learn about it. I agree 100 percent. This experience has opened my eyes to different cultures and has given me better insight into how the world works than I could have gained just in the classroom.
Daniel Craig ‘16 – Day 6 in Germany: I want to go home. Yes, I said it. I’m not even halfway through the program, and thoughts of home keep creeping into my mind. Mom’s cooking, my own bed, Netflix (that’s right, NO Netflix here!), friends and family: all of these keep flashing through my mind as I sit here listening to people speak in a language I can seemingly just barely understand.
“So what is it that keeps you here?” I hear you asking. Is it the Döner (a tasty Turkish sandwich); the crazy, awesome, Goodwill-esque clothes everyone wears; or is it fear from knowing that if I actually try to leave, Dr. Redding will chase me all the way back…RUNNING…? Well, a little bit of each. But the biggest reason is this: My German is getting better.
It’s true. Full sentences, short phrases, colloquial nonsense — I can say them all. Sure, I may butcher them every now and then, but for the most part I say it just right. If I had met the current me 6 days ago, I would have been blown away. Heck, I’m having full conversations with people. It’s slow and hard, but it’s happening! Just recently when I ordered a scoop of ice cream, I was charming enough that they gave me an extra scoop!
Last evening I was relaxing on a bench in the Oberstadt, Marburg’s historic center, when Dr. Redding walked by. When he asked me how I was doing, I confessed that my brain is a bit full: 4 hours of language practice each morning, then lunch, then on alternating days another 3 hours in German with our language partners or Dr. Redding. It is mentally exhausting.
So in summary, why will I stay? Because it is fantastic here. Because I am actually being challenged, and I am learning. And on top of all that, it’s free (sort of). It’s just too good to pass up. –
Daniel Hoover ’15 – As we are wrapping up our week in Chicago, let me first say that I am so grateful and blessed that I have been able to partake in this education learning experience. I will say that Chicago is a whole different world than where I grew up, but it has been an eye-opening experience overall. I am placed at De La Salle Institute, which is private catholic school a block away from US Cellular Field. Interestingly enough, my school has two gender-based campuses, so I have been able to relate to my students well considering we are both in all male institutes.
One of the best parts about this trip in the classroom has been able to experience such diversity in the classroom. De La Salle accepts an even amount of white, Hispanic, and African-American students. Having been able to co-teach these wonderful students has opened my eyes in terms of how different people have grown up. It has been a pleasure to experience different cultures in the classrooms.
This week, we have been studying a unit over the Renaissance Era. Specifically, today we talked about the Reformation and Martin Luther. At the end of the class, I was able to discuss with the students what they would like to reform. I was quite impressed when the students said that would like to do work in the community to reform some of the problems that Chicago faces. It was extremely thrilling listening to high school freshman so engaged in wanting to perform in the community.
Yesterday (Wednesday) we had the privilege of exploring the Museum of Science and Industry and what it had to offer in terms of education. Before, I had never really thought of putting a museum in a lesson plan. However, the museum taught me how to incorporate possible field trips in the future.
Overall, this week has been an amazing experience. It has really opened my eyes to urban education. Since the trip began I have really enjoyed working with my students and it really has changed my perspective on urban education. Again, I would like to thank all the alums who have made this trip possible.
Erik Kile ‘16 – Prior to our arrival I wasn’t sure what to expect from this immersion experience in Marburg. I had been to this region of Germany last year to visit family, and when I was with them everything was comfortable and relaxed. On this trip I have had to rely more on myself to use German in everyday situations. The first day we were here several of us had a rough time just trying to order food at a Döner Kebab stand. But now, after a few days of dedicated language practice it seems that everything has opened up for us and we are able to apply what we learned in the classroom at home to a real world setting. I am now able to converse entirely in German with my family and friends who live nearby in Neustadt.
We have also been experiencing the rich cultural history that Marburg has to offer. We’ve seen a plethora of historical sites throughout the city that escaped my attention when I came through here last year. Professor Redding led us on a tour of the Elisabethkirche, which some people claim is the oldest purely Gothic church in Germany. It was built by the Order of Teutonic Knights to honor St. Elisabeth, who gave up her rich life as Landgräfin (duchess) of Thuringia to care for the poor and the sick. She basically worked herself to death and was canonized in 1235, just four years after she died.
Yesterday after language class and lunch at the Mensa (student cafeteria) we visited the Landgrafenschloss, the castle that dominates the skyline of Marburg. We studied the castle inside and out, and learned about its role in the development of the city. In fact, Marburg takes its name from the castle, with “Mark” being an old German word for border and “Burg” meaning fortress or castle: Mar(k) + Burg = Marburg. In addition to its role in the birth of the modern German state of Hesse, the castle also hosted the famous Marburg Colloquy, a theological discussion between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli. The meeting did not go well and essentially solidified the split between the Lutheran and the Reformed wings of the Protestant movement.
It was well after 5 p.m. by the time Dr. Redding turned us loose, but several of us still had enough energy to grab some supplies at the grocery store and hike to the top of the steep hills opposite the castle, where we picnicked and enjoyed the spectacular view of Marburg. We are less than halfway through our stay and already we have a lot to reflect on, and a lot to still look forward to.
Patrick Rezek ’15 – Well, Tuesday was day two of our week-long immersion trip in Chicago. My host school is Kenwood Academy, a public, magnet school that for students grades 7-12. I have been placed in a 7th grade English class with a general class size of 42! This can get a little crazy at times, but the students are good at helping calm each other down when it’s time to get work done.
My class just started a unit over The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The novel is full of short, little vignettes that are meant to give a snapshot depiction of Esperanza’s life as she struggles through adolescence. Its is a perfect time for these students to be reading this short novel because many of them struggle with the same problems that Esperanza does. We haven’t gotten much of the reading done, but we have been engaged in deep conversations and debates over important themes presented in the novel: family, identity, gender/race, lifestyles and expectations.
I have had some of the most unexpected and inspiring stories about the lives of these students and what they go through every day, and it’s an experience that you cant get anywhere else besides being in the classroom with them. My host teacher has created such an environment where the students are able to open up and discuss real life problems as they also see them applied to literature.
I look forward to teaching a full day of lessons Wednesday and Thursday! The experience of co-teaching in Chicago has opened up a new door for me in terms of both my options as a career but also my passion – my desire to help those students who really want to do well and continue their own educational growth, but may not have the money or resources to do so. Thank you to those alums, faculty, and current students who continue to donate financial support for immersion trips such as this one. It has truly been rewarding and inspirational!
Professor Greg Redding – It has become a Wabash tradition for students to write blog posts during their off-campus immersion experiences. For the first two days of our current study program in Germany, however, the students have hardly had time to catch their breath, let alone write about their impressions thus far. By tomorrow we will have settled into a routine, so student reflections will be forthcoming. In the meantime I want to offer a few observations from the point of view of a professor who is traveling abroad with students for the 14th time in his 19-year teaching career.
When one travels as much as I and so many of my Wabash colleagues have, it is easy for it to become routine. Germany for me is not a strange, foreign place: it is like a second home. So when I arrive in familiar places like Marburg, where we are currently studying, it feels like a long-awaited homecoming. The language and the culture are comforting to me.
This is not true for my students. They are young men traveling in a group, so of course they do not willingly betray any lack of confidence. But almost immediately things begin to happen that challenge their self-assurance, the most important of which is the language. The students on this trip have had from 2 to 4 semesters of college German. They’ve been exposed to all of the essential grammar, have acquired (in theory at least) an active vocabulary of more than 1,000 words, are somewhat culturally competent, and have many hours of situational language practice.
There should be no real difference between using German in Crawfordsville and using German in Marburg, but as one might expect it does not play out that way in those first few encounters with native speakers in context. The simplest exchange becomes cause for self-doubt, sometimes even panic. I have to admit, I find those first blundered transactions amusing, but only because I know that what seemed difficult on day one will be quite simple by the end of our stay. Each situation that the student successfully navigates shows him that the German he has practiced in the Detchon classroom really isn’t any different than the German he hears on the streets of Marburg.
The German 202 immersion experience is immersion in the truest sense of the word. The students are expected to live the language and the culture while they are here. They live separately rather than in a group. They have at least 7 required active hours of language practice per day, and more on some days. They pick up groceries and cook their own meals at home. They have assignments that are designed to get them away from each other, to discover Marburg on their own, to gather information and bring it back to share with the group — in German of course.
Already there have been some surprises. Any notions the students might have had about German stereotypes have been challenged by some of their language partners. Each morning they have 4 hours of formal instruction with an instructor whose heritage is Turkish. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they have an additional 3 hours of “on the street” German practice with conversation partners who have Mongolian and Russian heritage. Marburg is multi-cultural, a small university town with a strong international presence that for the next two weeks includes 9 students from Wabash.
By the time these 9 young men return to Crawfordsville, they will be well on their way toward becoming citizens of the world. Their next trip abroad will seem a little less daunting, and those first conversations in a language other than English will be approached with confidence. They will move forward while in Marburg, and I will move a little bit backward. Watching them will remind me of the time when speaking German was not natural for me, and when the culture seemed foreign. I will rediscover Germany through the eyes of my students and reclaim a bit of the excitement of the new for myself.
Bailey Combs ’15 – I would like to begin by thanking the generous Wabash alumni and the College for funding this trip into the often misperceived Chicago area and its educational system. Today was my first full day observing at Kenwood Academy. Far from being a failing school, Kenwood strives to get students to graduate and get into college but also take with them up to 12 college credits as well.
The first class I observed started promptly at 8 a.m. and was a senior psychology class working on a psychological disorder unit. It required every memory of Dr. Horton’s PSY 101 class as well as a cast of friends who exemplify some of the disorders. After that, it was several periods of 8th grade human geography class where I engaged students to fully develop their PowerPoint presentations and classroom activities for their group projects. Students were very interesting in talking to me and I had several fun conversations throughout the day about class, assignments, and of course Wabash College. Additionally, I was able to observe how to handle a stressful situation amongst co-workers as a white teacher and a African-American teacher soon discovered that the seemingly innocent nursery rhythm, “10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” had a more sinister rendition many years ago. There were apologizes all around and an acknowledgement that ignorance and not malice was truly at the middle of the situation.
After classes were over for the day, I met up with Patrick Rezek, who is also observing at Kenwood Academy, and we started our journey back across town to the hostel we are staying at in downtown Chicago. We had the opportunity to talk with one of the chefs at the school while we were waiting on the city bus. He was very happy to hear that we were enjoying our time at the school and that we recognized urban schools weren’t all gangs, drugs, and violence. Unfortunately, the crowded environment of the Chicago Transport Authority Bus No. 6 prevented us from discussing urban education, as well as sports, with this kind gentleman.
Following dinner, everyone on the trip signed up for an architectural tour of the city by boat. My favorite part was when the tour guide asked if we knew anything about the Art Deco style. It didn’t take long for the memories of soft, warm breezes, crying seagulls, and beautiful buildings of Miami and Havana that I saw on Dr. Hollander’s Cuba Immersion trip last fall to be recalled and my interest level to be peaked. The only downside to seeing all of the old super concrete building of the 1920s and 30s Chicago was hearing about how expensive it was to live downtown. $1.2 million dollars for a townhouse? Suddenly, room and board at Wabash doesn’t sound so bad.
As the week goes on, I plan to not only be more active in the classroom but I also want to see more of the historical sites and museums that Chicago has to offer in the evenings once classes are done for the day. I would like to thank the College and the wonderful Alumni for granting me this opportunity to extend my Wabash College experience beyond the campus but beyond the school calendar too.