Our Final Thoughts

This past month has been an incredible experience for me! I was able to live in the country where my grandparents were born and raised and experience the language, culture, and history. Although it was extremely difficult to leave my husband and children for an entire month, this opportunity has not only allowed me to evolve into a more appreciative person but also grow as an educator. The differences in the culture have made me step back and look at my life and realize that I am very fortunate to have the things that I do. As a future educator I am taking with me the understanding of how non-English speaking students feel when they enter our classrooms. When these students come into our classrooms they feel nervous, scared and stressed because of the language barrier that they are struggling with. Being in a learning environment for three and a half weeks where the main language of learning is German and not being able to comprehend what they were saying was a very stressful and an enlightening experience because it has allowed me to think of ways to better suit the needs of my future students. As an educator, it is my responsibility to teach these students and make them feel comfortable in their learning environment. I will be forever grateful for this experience and the memories that I take back with me.
~ Jennifer

I really do not know how I can sum up what this entire month has meant to me. The first day we arrived here was such a shock to me. I had never flown before, had no idea what public transportation consisted of, and was crying like a toddler! I know everyone around me thought I was out of it and would be catching the first flight back to South Carolina. Here I am though, a month later, and I made it! I have grown so much as an individual, and as an educator. I have experienced what it is like to be in a completely new culture, and surrounded by a language that I know little to none of. I have sat in the classrooms here and known nothing that was being said. I feel as an educator I can understand students from a different culture in a completely new way. I do not feel that we can ever understand what they fully feel, but I am sure I have experienced some of the same thoughts: fear, stress, and doubtfulness. I can see a totally different way to approach students of a different culture, because I have sat in an environment and felt out of place. This trip made me realize that as much as you believe your way is not the only way, you can never fully understand that till you are in a culture where your way is NOT the way. I am forever grateful for the knowledge, experiences, and memories that I will carry back to the states with me.
-Courtney
This was an eye-opening experience for me. I can’t believe that this month has flown by. I have enjoyed the time I spent here and it will impact me for the rest of my life. The biggest part of this experience for me was the culture shock. I had no idea what to expect when we arrived and the people were so welcoming. The public transportation was another new thing for me. We traveled on a plane, train, bus, and taxi our first day! This was so stressful but by the end of the trip it did not faze me at all. The students here are so nice, they had a limited knowledge of English but they tried so hard and were so excited to be around us. I loved being in the schools and seeing all of the different courses they offered their students. I was surprised to see that the students have a woodshop class; this is so different from everything we have at home. I now feel much better prepared to handle students who come into my class from other cultures. I feel that I can know relate to students who do not know the language or the customs. This experience has allowed me to see how it feels to be in their position and given me a much needed perspective as an educator. I am so glad I had the opportunity to take this trip and am forever grateful for the time I have spent here.
-Brittney
I cannot believe I have spent the last month in Germany. The time flew by and I have experienced several emotions while on this trip. I have felt everything from apprehension to wonder both inside and outside the classroom experience. I see this journey occurring from two perspectives: cultural and professional development. While in Germany, I have learned of the varying differences between our two cultures some good and some that are just different. I have traveled to several places and explored the history of the country, which is unlike anything back home.
Some would argue that the study abroad program was a glorified vacation and not a professional development experience. I would say that is incorrect, while we did take advantage of exploring the region on the weekends. During the rest of the week, we got up early and walked to school where we sat in a classroom that barely spoke English. I gained a new appreciation for my students who come from another country, while only knowing a little bit of English without breaking down. That is what I experienced my first few days at the school. I was exhausted while at school because I spent most of my energy throughout the day trying to pick up any words that I recognized, between taking a six week conversational German class, and listening for any words that had similar definitions in English. I know how it feels to look at a text and be able to “read” the language but not comprehend any of the information presented. I was eager to learn and wanted to participate in the classroom but due to the language barrier, I could only do so much. I thrived in math because it dealt with numbers, and in the related arts because of the visuals and following the other students (mimicking). These characteristics are the same traits that I see in my students who are ESOL or have a learning disability. My journey to Germany has taught me several things as a future educator.
The first is the ability to relate to my students because of a true understanding of where they come from and being more empathetic to their needs. Second is to be more open-minded while teaching the various subjects to a diversified classroom. Third, I now have a better understanding of how important visuals are in the classroom. In the methods courses, we are taught to have them and the more the better but until you are on the other side it does not really have a concrete meaning, but since I have experienced what it is like to do without them and not understand the language. I can assure everyone that I meet the realistic importance because there were days where I would have done anything to have a picture. While it is true that I was unable to do more in the classrooms, I found myself understanding what I would do if I were the teacher in the room and a student teacher from another country came into my room and expected to teach my students. In addition, this trip made me realize something that I have often worried about since choosing education as my major. I was in the bilingual school and able to check student’s papers and help them during an English lesson, and I was ecstatic. I could help a child understand what they were learning which confirmed that teaching is where my heart and future lie. I am no longer worried that I chose the wrong profession and I am grateful that this trip provided me with that amount of certainty. “That’s it, we’re done!” (inside joke).
~Jessica

Potsdam and Magdeburg

We took two trips at the end of our journey in Germany. Our first stop, Potsdam, we took a train from Stendal to Rathenow where we switched trains and from there we made our way to Berlin. Once in Berlin, we made our way to the platform that would take us to Potsdam. The first part we did on our own except for meeting Tanya on the train at one of the stops between Rathenow and Berlin. After arriving in Potsdam, we looked around in the train station and grabbed something to eat. Our plan was to leave the station and make our way to the palace. Along the way we stopped to view a building that was being renovated from damaged received in World War II in the Altert Markt square. Including St. Nicholas’s Church and the Fort
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St. Nicholas’s Church

There are three gates from the original city wall remain today. We were able to see one gate that was built in 1770, the Potsdam Brandenburg Gate, not to be confused with the Berlin Brandenburg Gate.
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Potsdam Brandenburg Gate

The main reason for our visit was Schloss Sanssouci is the former summer palace of Fredrick the Great, the King of Prussia. The palace was built with the purpose of relaxation instead of a power seat to conduct business. This concept is represented in its name, when translated “sans souci” is a French phrase, which means “without concerns”. We walked from the Brandenburg Gate to the palace and were greeted with gates made of iron and gold overlay.
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Gate leading into the palace and garden

We did not take the main entrance into the palace grounds, but instead went through a side garden and building. There we saw a church complete with long halls and a courtyard containing a prodomient sculpture of Jesus looking out into the gardens.
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Photo of Christ’s statue

As we continued our walk, we eventually arrived at the bottom of the terraced gardens. The gardens included had a long walk up to the actual palace via six flights of stairs (132 steps!), several garden beds and marble statues surrounding a fountain in the center. The photo below is a view looking up the stairs.

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Beginning our ascent

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We made it to the top!

After making it to the top, we had a chance to look around at the building before going inside for the tour of the palace. Unfortunately, we were unable to take photos inside the building because it would have cost extra. The inside was amazing, and something that I will remember for a long time.
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Garden side view of Sanssouci

However, the most memorable part of our day trip to Potsdam was the train ride home. We were taking the train back and knew that we would be on our own once again toward the end of our trip. Tanja left us between Berlin and Rathenow, and we made the rest of the journey alone. That is where our story becomes interesting. About two minutes before arriving in Rathenow, our train came to a complete stop and we stayed there for about three to five minutes before moving on to the train station. We knew that we had to get off our train and go to the opposite track to get on the train to Stendal. However, when we approached the train on the opposite track we were told repeatedly in German that we could not get on the train. As we looked at the train, we realized that there was it, and there were several people standing around not knowing what to do or where to go. This alarmed us because we had no phone or anyway of contacting someone to find out what was going on and therefore we had to be resourceful. We managed to find someone who spoke English and ask her if she knew what was going on but all she could tell us was that we could not get that train. We then found a train conductor who informed us that the train to Stendal would be arriving in two minutes. After getting on the train that arrived after the other train left, we were once again worried because if we could not find the train to take, we would be stranded in Rathenow. The train arrived and we decided to get on regardless of where it was going! As we boarded the train, we realized that we have picked up a little bit of the language or at least deciphering what someone was saying because a fellow passenger went to the front of the train. Next to where we were sitting, and asked the train workers if this was the train going to Stendal. Once she was done, we said, “Excuse me” to her, “Stendal?” and she informed us yes. We were finally relieved to know that we were on the correct train and heading home.

The second stop was Magdeburg to see the campus and the cathedral. Tanja went with us on the train from Stendal to Magdeburg, and once in Magdeburg we met Tanja’s sister. They both guided us in the city and took us to the main college campus. We walked around the campus, which is larger than the one in Stendal because the Stendal campus is a satellite school of the Hochshule of Magdeburg. The campus was about the same size or slightly bigger than Upstate’s campus. Some of the buildings were used by the Russians during the World War II the same as the Stendal campus.

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Building on Campus

We left the campus, and took the tram back into town. We got off and made our way to the farmer’s market. We also saw the town hall protected by Roland and the church where the Protestant revolutionary, Martin Luther, preached.

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Church where Luther preached

After leaving the farmer’s market, we took the tram to the cathedral but stopped to look at a very interesting building that is famous for its architecture called the Hundertwasserhaus. The architect, Friedrich Stowasser better known as Friedensreich Hundertwasser, was an Austrian artist. Hundertwasser despised straight lines and insisted on painting and building without using them. He built several buildings with this philosophy. The Green Citadel is the last building he was involved in and was completed in 2005 (five years after his death).

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Die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg
(The Green Citadel in Magdeburg)

The Cathedral of Magdeburg, officially called Cathedral of Saints Catherine and Maurice, that we went to is over 700 years old. It is the oldest gothic cathedral in Germany. The current cathedral is built over the original church from 937 that was an abbey called St. Maurice. The entire original church was destroyed during the fire of 1207 except for the south cloister. The building was torn down with the exception of the south wall but was not finished until 1520. The cathedral changed from Catholic to Protestant and back again several times. The cathedral survived the Thirty Years War and the bombings of World War II.

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The front door

The cathedral has extremely high ceilings and takes your breath away when looking at the intricate carvings of stone throughout the building. The church is constantly undergoing repair due to damaged it has sustained throughout the years. There is a courtyard surrounded by corridors that visitors can walk around because going onto the grass is forbidden in order to preserve the grounds. Along the walls around the courtyard, there are graves built into the walls. We were able to go below the church to view the original foundation and stones that were used to build the church, which were excavated in 2003. The church is still in use today with the largest service being Christmas.

~Jessica

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View of the Cathedral facing east

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The ornate pulpit

Hamburg and Wernigerode Weekend

This weekend we got up at 5:30 to meet Sally at the train station by 6:30 for our trip to Hamburg on Saturday. After taking two trains, we arrived in Hamburg where we planned to visit the Hachez Chocoversum (a combination between a chocolate factory and museum). On the way into Hamburg, we could see the huge harbor and the ships that were docking in the port. We arrived in Hamburg at 9:30, so we took our time walking to the Hachez Chocoversum because the museum did not open until 10:15. Taking the extra time to stop for the breakfast of champions: coffee and a pastry at one of the bakeries along the way.
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Group photo in front of the Chocoversum
When the museum opened we were excited to learn about the process for making chocolate. They provided a tour guide booklet in English that we were mostly able to follow as we progressed through the Chocoversum. The tour started with discussing where the cocoa plant grows and what part of the plant is used to begin making chocolate. Our guide also started with the cocoa fruit, opening it to show us the white pods inside that each house a cocoa bean.
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The Cocoa Bean showing the white pods
Then, we were given the opportunity to taste a whole pod and chew the bean. We all tasted the seed, which was surrounded by a white fleshy pod that protects the actual seed. The best explanation for the taste was that it had the texture of an oyster (white pod), and the actual bean which was very hard and bitter. We went through every stage of the chocolate making process. Stopping only once to make our own chocolate bar using three different ingredients (coconut flakes, chocolate chips, hazelnut pieces, etc). At each stage, we had the opportunity to interact with the developing chocolate by either tasting, smelling, or touching. The tour was a very informational and interactive experience, and of course, sampling chocolate along the way was an added bonus. At the end of the tour, we received our chocolate bars and went through the gift shop before leaving to find lunch in Hamburg.
We decided to have lunch at a restaurant called Prego, which was a nice Italian restaurant where we had pizza and salad. After lunch, we walked around Hamburg to look around and view the different shops and sights of the town. We made our way towards the town hall of Hamburg and the old market square with the oldest building in Hamburg. There we also found a memorial for those who lost their lives in WWI.
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The front of the Town Hall in Hamburg
After visiting the town hall, we made our way into the mall to look and shop around before making our way back to the train station to head home.
On Sunday, we met Sally early in the morning to begin our trip to Brocken Mountain were we took three trains and a bus. Brocken Mountain is the tallest mountain in the region, and is known for its amazing view. A view that we were unable to enjoy because the trail was covered in snow and ice.
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The Beginning of the Trail
Since we were unable to make the hike up the mountain we had to make an alternative plan which was to go to the town below the mountain and look around. The town of Wernigerode is a small village town with winding streets and cute little shops. As we made our way around the town, we noticed the popularity of witches everywhere we went. There is a famous castle in Wernigerode near Brocken Mountain and according to legend is the meeting place of witches so the town has capitalized on its fame. While in town, we found a great café to have lunch and ordered the best food we have enjoyed thus far on our trip.We also found the town hall in the middle of the town. Also, while exploring Tori and Sally discovered the smallest house and the last person that lived in the house 1963.
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Wernigerode Town Hall
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Smallest House
After improvising on our trip, we made our way back to the train station to head home after a long day of sightseeing and to prepare for our visit to the Bilingual School.
~Jessica

Our Third Week at “Am Stadtsee”

Our third week of school and activities were very interesting. We were not able to go to the Grudschule Am Stadtsee on Monday and Tuesday because we all became sick on Sunday night when we returned home from Berlin. I’m assuming from the various forms of transportation we took in Berlin (train, bus, and tram), we came in contact with someone who was sick.

When we arrived at school on Wednesday the students and faculty were excited to see us and we were glad to be back because this week we switched classes and Silke, the headmaster, created schedules for us so that we could rotate to different grades and classes to see the differences between each. Jessica and I were placed in a third grade class on Wednesday. Our class is so sweet. They made ladybug flower cards for us and sang us a couple of English songs to welcome us to their class. During their Deutsch lesson, the teacher showed us a book that was purchased for a student with special needs. This student cannot read and the book helps break up the words for her so she is able to comprehend what she is reading. The student does not receive services from an in-school reading interventionist because they don’t have special services like that. Instead, her teacher takes her into a separate room and works with her one-on-one with the book.

Wednesday evening we were invited to the Hochschule to attend the American Evening that they prepared for us next to the Menza. There were about 30 students who attended and we presented our PowerPoint that we created for the English class the week before so that the students could get to know us and where we came from. We had hot muffins and cola. One of the reporters from the English class came to check it out and take a photo for another article in the paper. All in all it was a great night!

On Thursday, I was able to see the second, third and fourth grade English classes. It’s amazing to see all the different levels of English that the students are learning and how the teachers who teach English teach it so differently. It also amazes me how different the students behave for each teacher. I know in the United States that our students do the same thing whether they are with their homeroom teacher, art teacher or physical education teacher, but the teachers here rotate to different classes for just about every lesson. Our teachers do not do that. Teachers are moving in and out of the classrooms all day and students are left alone in the classroom between lessons for anywhere around 3-5 minutes waiting for their next teacher. I had a hard time with this because in our schools, students are not to be left alone in the classroom and here it is a normal thing. All five of us were able to participate in the 5th lesson of the day which was a 4th grade English lesson. We sat in two rows and had to interview and be interviewed with the student across from us. After about two minutes, Frau Thiemann would have us switch partners to do it all over again. This was a great way to allow the students to work on their English as well as get to know us better. It was also a warm up for them because they had to present their Pet Report that they have been working on for three lessons. Each student had to say who they were, that they had a pet and what type of pet, their pets name/color/age, where their pet sleeps, what their pet can do, and anything else that they wanted to share with the class. This is the rubric in which they are graded on. The students had to come to the front of the class and were recorded as they presented. I can’t begin to imagine how nervous some students were to present in front of their classmates and us.

Thursday evening we went to Sally’s flat where she and Tanja made dinner for us. They made Geschnetzeltes, which is a dish with chicken, vegetables, cream, and herbs. It was delicious! We are so thankful for Sally and Tanja and everything that they have done to set this amazing experience up for us and everything they have done for us since we’ve been here.

Friday we went to the Altmark Oase with grade 3b. This is the swim center in Stendal where the students go for swimming lessons as a group. The bus picked us up at school and brought us to the swim center where the students spent three periods there. Grade 3a had their swimming lessons in the first half of the school year and 3b has them the second half. The center is beautiful. It has a six lane swimming pool with a diving board, an outdoor pool, a wave pool with white water channels, a waterfall, a slide that goes indoor and outdoor, and a splash pad for infants and toddlers. The students were divided into two lanes. One lane hosted the students who knew how to swim and only used a noodle to swim up and down the lane. The second lane hosted the students who needed assistance and used a noodle as well as waist swim belts. All students worked on their kicks and form. It was very interesting to see how the teachers taught the students how to swim because swimming is a state-mandated skill that all children learn to do in school. Each child begins learning how to swim in third grade and it is funded by the government. Another interesting fact is that all students learn how to ride a bike in school also. Each student begins at an early age when in school they take lessons. In fourth grade, the students have to bring their bikes to school and the police come to inspect them and make sure that the students know and understand the rules and laws of riding their bikes. They must have their helmet, a functioning bell, a working front and rear light and their brakes must work. I personally found the swimming lessons and bike information interesting since I have children in elementary school and we do not have anything like this in the United States.

~Jennifer