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.
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.
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).