Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bad Blogger - Teaching Amerikaner

I've hit a blogging slump lately, mainly because I'm somewhat employed. I'm spending my evenings lesson planning and taking care of household business (though not this week; more on that shortly), and mornings fly by for whatever reason.

This week and next week I'm taking a break from teaching my Syrian and Eritrean students, and I'm in Esslingen teaching a 2-week crash course to four American teenagers who are here for a five-month exchange. Since Wisconsin schools have been slashing German programs for the last bunch of years and most American teenagers can't bear to leave their friends and pets for any length of time, long-term exchange programs have been suffering. Esslingen and Sheboygan have been sister cities since 1967, and we had a healthy exchange program between the two cities for several decades. After a number of dry years, we have these four lovely students who have come to Germany with a minimum of German lessons, and when these two weeks are up they'll be attending Gymnasien (high schools) on their own.

It's challenging coming to a foreign country with little understanding of the language, but I think they'll make the most of their opportunity and enjoy their time here.

It was thirty years ago that I was in their shoes! In mid-February 1986 I arrived in Esslingen thinking I was pretty worldly and found out rather quickly that I had a lot to learn. That experience completely changed my life, and I am where I am today because of it.

I'm teaching these students basic conversation, giving them tips on how to handle various situations, introducing them to new words, and giving them lots of homework every night. They're doing very well, and really seem eager to participate and learn.

Side note: I just received an email from one of my Syrian students! I'd given them homework last Friday, to write a few paragraphs about themselves based on the questions we've been practicing and send the "biography" to me via email sometime this week. He did an excellent job on the writing assignment, and it was nice to hear from him! That really made me smile.

Back to my Esslingen class...Each morning we begin at 8:30 and finish at noon. We spend the first half in the classroom, and then we go on walkabout and do something in the town. Yesterday we ambled through town while I taught them all kinds of words for whatever we saw - die Ampel, das Ampelmännchen, die Zebrastreifen, das Tor, das Kaufhaus, die Zigarette (a woman walked passed us smoking, as so many people here do), die Weinberge, der Spiegel, der Stolperstein...  Today we went to a Blumenladen (flower shop) where I told them the importance of bringing a Kleinigkeit (small gift) whenever they are invited somewhere, and then we had a stroll through Esslingen's main Friedhof (cemetery). That may seem a strange thing to do, but cemeteries in Germany are beautiful in months that are not February and March. We saw the section of oldest graves, passed the children's plots, found the Jewish part with Hebrew on the stones as well as a memorial to victims of the holocaust, and we ended at the grave of my host father, who passed away in 2013. I explained to them some of the German customs involving death and cemeteries, and they asked some good questions.

On tomorrow's outing we'll be going to a supermarket, a bakery, a butcher, and a fruit and vegetable store, where each one will buy part of the picnic we'll then eat in the park. On Thursday we're invited to an acquaintance's home where we will practice conversation with a stranger (to them), learn words for setting the table, rooms in an apartment, and furniture and play "I spy".

I will not post photos of my American students without their parents' permission, so I leave you with a few shots of beautiful Esslingen, where they'll live for the next five months.

Ebershaldenfriedhof, photo credit T. Diehl

Ebershaldenfriedhof, photo credit T. Diehl


  1. So great that you're able to help in keeping that exchange alive! It's such a shame that so few people take advantage of opportunities like that. I think back to our French teacher in high school who was determined to get as many of us on the France trip as possible... she had to be a little crazy to do that on a yearly basis, but I wonder if I would've had as much desire to go abroad if she hadn't pushed us over the border to start with!

    ps~ Love that you are teaching the refugees as well. Don't think I commented on your earlier posts, but it is fantastic. :)

    1. Thanks! From my experience enough high school kids were interested in short trips abroad (I brought a group over every 2 years), but to commit to an exchange of several months to a year takes a really special person, or - as in my case - an older brother who says, "Don't be an idiot - do the exchange!" :-) I'm really proud of these kids.

    2. It's odd, I know our school hosted exchange students every year, but I'm pretty sure we never actually sent anyone abroad. Perhaps no one was willing to give up a year of glory on whatever field, or we just didn't have the option. I don't remember ever hearing anything about it. Schade. (I feel like I'm making up for it now though.) ;)

    3. From my own experience I can say that American schools do not promote exchanges in the way of advertising or encouraging their students to apply for time abroad. The opportunities definitely exist (AFS, for one), but the students and families have to seek them out on their own. Most kids I talked to could only think about what they'd be giving up by "being gone" for a semester or year rather than what they'd be gaining.
      You're definitely making up for it! :-)