PDF Version: Global Connections Reflection
Before attending Appalachian State University, I knew that I wanted to become culturally involved. Throughout high school, I was drawn to subjects such as World History or World Literature, but apart from those subjects and language courses, my high school experience lacked global content. It was my mission to gain a more diverse an global education as I moved onto college.
Much of my early childhood was spend growing up in Germany because my father was in the Air Force. We lived in a small town called Kӓsehofen near Ramstein. In addition to living in Germany for six years, I am also second generation German through my mother, whose parents emigrated from Germany to America in the 1950’s. We would sometimes speak tidbits of German at home and indulge in cultural traditions during the holidays. Because of this, I wanted to make it a goal of mine to learn more about German culture and language during my collegiate experience. Although it was not a requirement for the major I originally sought (a BS in History and Social Studies Secondary Education), I signed up for a beginning level German language course my freshman year.
In addition to German, I also desired to learn more about other cultures that I was unfamiliar with. I wanted to better understand people who did not come from the same background as I did. I decided to join the Language and Culture Residential Learning Community. Housed in the Learning Living Center (LLC) Residential Hall, I lived and spent time with like-minded people who shared my interest in cultural diversity. We hosted a number of events, including international movie nights, potlucks with international food, international game nights, and a night of international poetry and literature, often including international students in our activities. I shared my German language and culture with my peers, and my peers shared with me their cultures, including French, Chinese, Spanish, Ethiopian, and Vietnamese. During the two years I spent as a member of the community, I was surrounded by people who come from different backgrounds than me, yet we were all interested in learning from each other. Being part of that community enhanced the cultural understanding I had for those around me.
I continued my German studies over the course of two years, completing four semesters (1010 through 1050). Not only did I gain a broader understanding for the language and culture, but thoroughly enjoyed the classes as well. In 1040, we studied the history of fairy tales written by the Brothers’ Grimm and even wrote our own in German. In 1050, we had a visiting professor from Germany who had grown up in East Germany, and we had the opportunity to ask her questions and learn from her experiences. The content was diverse, and instruction was effective in our study of the language. The faculty were always more than willing to help their students out, and I grew to consider my classmates my family. We would often get together outside of class for German activities, such as a Christmas party in December, group meals for Stammtisch. A German-immersion weekend was held twice a year, in which we spoke only German for 24 hours, and indulged ourselves in German activities such as cooking, crafts, and games.
Regretfully, I was not able to continue my collegiate study of German after taking 1050. I would have liked to have pursued a minor in German, but I already had a full course load with classes History and education classes for my major, and English classes for my minor. However, because of the language classes I had taken as well as having a minor, I was able to pick up a BA in History in addition to my BS.
Many of the history classes I have taken have broadened my understanding of the development of culture as well. After all, I did choose to become a history major to learn more about the world and its peoples.
The first history class I took at ASU was HIS 2312: Introduction to the Ancient Mediterranean World. The course expanded my knowledge of ancient civilizations such as the the Greeks, the Persians, and the Romans, through the use of primary sources. I developed an understanding of the art and customs of those civilizations, which were vital to their cultures, in addition to their militaristic involvement. The following semester, I took the succeeding course, HIS 2313: the Middle Ages. The content for that course covered the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. Although that period of history is commonly referred to as the “Dark Ages” due to its presumed lack of culture, I discovered the opposite to be true. The culture of the middle ages had close ties to religion, and religious views were often depicted in art or song.
My discoveries were further solidified when I took an Art History course, ART 2130: Art from 1400 to Present, my junior year. The early works of art we looked at were from the late middle ages, and were mostly depictions of Mary and the baby Jesus. We examined more religious depictions as the appreciation for art exploded during the Renaissance. Additionally, we also explored art from Eastern Asia and Africa. I wrote a research paper comparing the art of the Song dynasty to the art of the Yuan dynasty, after the Mongol invasion and control of China in the 13th century. It was an interesting topic to research because I had only ever learned about the political and economic effects of the Mongol invasion. When we learned about art in Africa, I discovered how closely tied art was to cultural traditions, and how the works of art created, such as masks and statutes, have symbolic meaning to the people that created them.
I took a World Literature class, ENG 2030, which allowed me to explore different forms of literature from across the globe. We read a variety of texts, such as the French philosopher Voltaire’s Candid, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which revealed the brutality of King Leopold of Belgium’s influence in the Congo, and Giacomo Puccini’s Italian opera Madame Butterfly, a tale about a Japanese woman whose American husband leaves her for an American wife. The novels, poems, and plays we read were all translated to English, and although what we read may have had some elements that were lost in translation, my appreciation for world literature only grew. The class allowed me to gain insight in regard to the fictional aspects of different cultures; often popular fiction had some correlation to specific events, values, or commentary of the region.
The class I took that had the most global content was GHY 1020: World Regional Geography. When I first signed up for the class, I assumed that we would simply be studying the geography of different areas of the world. I was both surprised and delighted to have that misconception shattered. We did look at maps and graphs of the world, but we looked at them in relation to the people that lived there. We had discussions about issues of the various regions, such as the challenge of a rising population and poverty in Latin and South America, the AIDS epidemic in Russia, or the lack of education for women in Central Asia. The conversations and readings we had were enlightening because they revealed issues around the globe that I hadn’t previously considered.
My time at Appalachian also allowed me to participate in a variety of experiences abroad as well. Although the content of my classes deepened my understanding of cultures and communities throughout history and worldwide, I felt a true connection when I went abroad to study, learn, and teach.
During the 2016 spring break, I participated in a weeklong international Alternative Service Experience to Piñas, El Oro, Ecuador. As an education major, I felt that having experience teaching in a completely unfamiliar setting would positively affect my teaching skills and raise my confidence in my teaching ability. We spent our time at an English language camp, teaching English to children of varying ages. Although I have little background in the Spanish language, we taught in pairs, and my partner was nearly fluent in the language. I found that while I covered English terms with the children, I learned alongside them, gaining more expertise in the language. We also spent one day helping with a community project in the town by cleaning up a local park.
There were moments when I felt guilt for not having learned more Spanish prior to the trip. I wondered whether I could have made more of an impact on the students during my time there. I confided in the other participants of the program, and one of my peers encouraged me to embrace what is beyond words. He said that words are, “but a single, clumsy method of exchanging ideas,” and that our actions may sometimes be a more meaningful method of communication. I wanted nothing more than for my students to grow and gain language skills from the experience. Through my own struggle with learning a new language, I understood the difficulty they also faced. The experience helped me gain confidence in my teaching skills, because I developed connections with the students.
I was amazed by the sense of community we discovered in Piñas. Although we were strangers, we were welcomed by the people into their town and sometimes even their homes. The local fire station cooked dinner for us every night and showed us around their town, proud of their community and its history. It was an incredibly humbling experience. The people there were willing to share what they had, even if it wasn’t much.
When I was in Ecuador, I was reminded of what I had learned in my world geography course. I saw the effects of over population in the capital city, Guayaquil, as well as poverty in both urban and rural areas that we visited. When we talked with the students, many of them expressed that a knowledge of English was vital to their success. They desired to travel to the United States for work or higher education. In world geography, I was first introduced to the term, “brain drain,” the emigration of educated citizens to another city or country. I realized first hand that “brain drain” was what the students were describing. They felt that they would have more opportunities in the United States than in Piñas.
In the summer of 2016 I also had the opportunity to participate in a history study abroad program to Wales. We studied the coal mining industry of South Wales in comparison to the Appalachian region. Through this program, I realized that parallels can be found between two different regions of the world that seemingly have little alike. Both coal mining regions developed a sense of community through music, and during our time in Wales we attended a concert that blended the two forms of folk music. We also learned about the sport of rugby and its relationship with and importance to the coal miners of Wales. We studied primary source documents from the archives at a local university to develop a sense of understanding for the sport’s relevance to the coal mining industry. Rugby was an outlet for the players. This study abroad program allowed me to develop my research skills as a historian in completing field work. I desire to discover how the history of places I travel to compares to the history of places that I have lived. I believe such comparisons will assist me in understanding different cultures and people of the world.
Now, I am currently abroad, completing my student teaching semester in Germany. I am here for a total of five weeks, two of which have already passed. I am teaching English at Gutenbergschule in Karlsruhe, with a cohort three other student teachers. As I complete this experience, I am reminded of my time spent in Ecuador, teaching English as a foreign language. Although I can speak some German, my other cohort members do not; they are in a similar position that I was in when I traveled to Ecuador. I have realized that their teaching is still effective, and they have often expressed that it helps them understand the struggle the students face learning English because they share the same struggle learning German. Our host teacher is often with us and handles any English to German translation, if necessary.
Gutenbergschule is a “werkrealschule,” meaning that the students who graduate often go directly into the workforce. Many of the students at the school are immigrants, coming from areas such as Syria, Afghanistan, Albania, or Croatia, to name a few, and some came to Germany as refugees. The refugee crisis was always something that I had heard about in the news or in discussions with colleagues in classes, but it suddenly became real to me when I met the people affected. Some of the students are only just learning German as well, and they sometimes struggle learning two different languages simultaneously. Despite the difficulties, I have noticed an eagerness to learn and participate among the students that I have the privilege to teach.
Returning to Germany also has a personal meaning to me. I wanted to return to visit my old childhood home and my relatives that live here. In a way, I feel like I’m rediscovering myself. The past ten years living in America, I have felt a sense of nostalgia for my life in Germany and a desire to return and develop a deeper sense of my German heritage. However, being in Germany, as I struggle to communicate with the locals in my limited knowledge of the language, I feel as if I stick out as an American. I think about anyone who travels to another country in hopes of creating a life there; I understand the desire to feel like I belong.
As I continue my personal and educational journey in Europe, I will be blogging about the adventures I experience and the challenges I face before I return home to graduate in May.
My global experiences at Appalachian have been nothing short of what I expected, and I am thankful for the well-rounded and diverse education I have received while completing my time at ASU. I believe that the global education and experiences that I have devoted myself to will allow me to be a better history and social studies teacher as I move on from college to a career in education. As I educate students about the history of the world and its peoples, I can integrate what I learned as a student by discussing global issues and I can share my own memories of my global adventures to make learning about the world more personal and real to my students.