Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Highs and Lows August 2016

Today, August 31st, is the one-year anniversary of Angela Merkel's now-famous statement at the beginning of the peak of the refugee crisis - "Wir schaffen das" ("We will handle this"). Germany opened its arms to help the people fleeing from war, mainly from Syria but also Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, and we welcomed around a million refugees by the end of the year.

She has faced lots of criticism, some of it justified, and I won't pretend to know more than I do. However, I am glad to be here in a country where people in need have been able to come for help. I am personally grateful for the open borders that allowed people to find safety here, because as a result I have met some truly warm and wonderful people.

There are problems that still need solving. This has been and will continue to be an expensive venture. These refugees, who have already faced more horror than a person should have to face, now need to learn German grammar - which brings on a whole different type of exhaustion. They need health care, they need housing, they need job and/or language training, they want to work. While Americans argue about whether an athlete should or should not have stood during the national anthem before a football game, Germans are struggling with how best to handle and help the refugees who are here, reunite families, and help them integrate into our society and way of life.*

*Disclaimer: I realize many Americans are also dealing with serious life issues, and there are Germans who fuss about athletes and celebrities as well.

Fittingly, most of my August highs have to do with foreigners in Germany.

So here we go for August.


  • my last week teaching at the Hermann-Hesse-Kolleg language school. This wasn't a high because it was my last week, but rather because I enjoyed the week! My students were once again a really nice group of motivated learners. It was my last week because a group of American college students arrived for a 6-week intensive course, and I had opted out of teaching my Landsleute. My last group of students were dispersed into groups with the Americans, and I had two weeks off before starting to teach at the VHS (community college).
students from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Argentina, Italy, and Russia
  • meeting with a woman who works for the city of Horb about a project I have started - interviewing our local refugees about their stories and eventually publishing their stories in German in book form and online. She likes the idea and is willing to help me make this a reality.

  • meeting several of my former Syrian & Eritrean students for Kaffee und Kuchen at a local café and chatting for hours. They are such special people!

  • receiving my accreditation from the BAMF (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees) in Würzburg, which means I am officially qualified to teach at the VHS (Volkshochschule). When the director of the language program at the VHS sent in my documents, he requested a rush because the class I was to take over started in two weeks! I received it just in time, after a little prodding from the secretary of the VHS.

  • starting with a new class (they've been together a while, but I'm their new teacher because their former teacher is on family leave) at the VHS. The first week went well enough, and the students gave me helpful feedback on Friday to help me plan better for the next several weeks. The best part is that two of my former students are in the class as well as several others I know from the HHK and the Sprachcafé. It's nice to see familiar faces, and I feel privileged to be their teacher!

  • having one of my former Syrian students over to our house for an afternoon because he wasn't available when our group met at the café. I had planned on going to a nearby Biergarten, but it was way too damn hot to walk there - especially since there's little shade along the way. So we hung out here instead. He talked a mile a minute the whole time, and I am so impressed with his German! He has worked so hard, has made lots of contacts with Germans, and is very motivated. He has been in Germany for almost a year and has been learning German for nine months. I wouldn't be able to say with confidence that my German is better than his. I am so proud of him!

    He is from Aleppo, and his family is still there. One of the things he told me was that the destroyed buildings in Syria can be rebuilt. What worries him is the hundreds of thousands of children who cannot go to school. The children still in Syria can't go to school because the war is all around them and it's not safe. There are many, many other children who are living in refugee camps who also don't have schools to attend. This 19-year-old recognizes that without education, children have little hope for a decent future.

  • reading that the U.S. accepted its 10,000th Syrian refugee on Monday. Now, while I would give the U.S. the Golden Eyedropper Award for this achievement while they pat themselves on the back for it, it is at least something. 


  • seeing the picture of Omran, the little boy in Aleppo who was pulled from his bombed house and put in an ambulence. Despite the media moving on because there was an earthquake in Italy, I will not forget Omran's face. That dear little boy.

LINKS to share

this article comparing Americans' attitudes toward Jewish refugees during the 1930s and today's Syrian refugees. History is repeating itself, folks, and this time we can't claim we didn't know what we were doing.

this article by the same writer, who questions whether we care more about puppies than human refugees

That's August, folks. Bring on autumn!!


  1. Such a lovely positive post - so many more highs than lows!

    While Germany is "handling it" Britain is back talking about how immigration has to be controlled as part of the Brexit preparations. Sometimes I'm so ashamed to be British!

  2. It's always nice when one can end the month with more highs than lows. I tend to think that pushing away people in need out of fear rather than reaching out (with the Christian love we're supposed to be practicing) will lead to more problems and more animosity. I continually imagine God facepalming these days.