Europa der Regionen: Week One

Ten years ago, I studied advanced German in an international summer course in Braunschweig. We were all students then.  Ten years later, I again find myself studying in Germany, but this time all my classmates are teachers. In the map below you can see all the countries from which my colleagues have traveled in order to be here. We are twenty-five men and women from fourteen different countries, with ten different mother tongues. And we all teach German.

Our seminar takes place in the bicycle-loving, university town of Freiburg in Breisgau, spefically at the Goethe Institute.  This language school is part of an international organization responsible for the promotion of German language and culture and sponsored by the German government.   In our seminar, our program directors facilitate opportunities for us to experience the culture and daily life of the Upper Rhine Valley, where Switzerland, Germany and France meet.  Urban centers within this multilingual metropolis include Basel, Freiburg, Colmar, Straßbourg, Mulhouse, Schaffhausen and Zürich, as well as all smaller towns along the borderlands.   What are the languages of commerce and culture?  German, French and English.   Integration and cooperation between people within this area makes up the focus of our seminar.

Multilingualism.  Multiculturalism.  Theater.  Economics.  Transportation.  Cuisine.  Family.  Insurance.  Education.  Job preparation.  Fashion.  Art.  Recreation.  Environment.  Sustainability.  Energy use.  Taxes.  Refugees.  The Euro.  Partner cities.  Cooperation.  Identity.

All of these topics come up every day in our seminar, in conversation, in exercises, in activities and in the evenings over dinner and drinks.  The kaleidoscope of perspectives continually shifts.

On Monday we met with Jürgen Oser, a representative of the city of Freiburg, who spoke with us about the trinational Upper Rhine Area projects dealing with economics, environment, education and transportation.

On Tuesday we explored Freiburg and learned about the European presence within the city.  We met with the director of the European Infopoint within the city library and were treated to a historical pedestrian tour of the old city center.

On Wednesday we were given individual projects to complete in the region.  Mine was to travel with another classmate to an art museum in a neighboring village, interview the director, and shadow her during her workday for a couple of hours to gain an idea of what her responsibilities consist of and how her work contributes to the cultural life of the surrounding area.  In the afternoon a professional speech coach met with us and shared his ideas for how to present ideas in creative ways.

Yesterday we gave presentations over our individual projects with people around the Freiburg area.  Some people were on the university campus, some met with professionals, others visited kindergartens or elementary schools, others went to a theater rehearsal.

Today we participated in a workshop in which we developed various ways of teaching about Europe in our own classes.  We participated in morning workshops, and then in the afternoon developed curriculum ideas, researched resources, and presented our ideas to the other classmates.

On Sunday we travel to the Black Forest region and spend an afternoon in a classic German resort town.  On Monday we travel to Straßbourg to visit the European Council, take part in a debate, and explore the literary and intellectual roots of Straßbourg on a pedestrian stroll with a professor.  On Tuesday we all have different tasks and topics, and travel to different places in the region to interview people, research locations in person, and document our experiences.  I am traveling to Basel with two Russians and an Estonian, to learn more about Switzerland’s cooperation with the European Union– or its lack of cooperation.  We’re meeting with the director of Regio Basiliensis, an organization responsible for the development of diverse projects within the Upper Rhine Valley, specifically focusing on Swiss involvement.   The cantons touching on this borderland, including Basel, Solothurn and Aargau, are directly affected.  After the interview, we will divide into pairs and explore the city, visit museums, and then return to Freiburg in the evening.  On Wednesday, we will present our experiences to the class.

I imagine that all of this sounds quite naturally foreign to many of my friends and family.  Where is Sasha now?  Do I seem very far away?  I suppose that’s reasonable.   I don’t know how different I seem from who I once was to the people who know me best.  I feel quite happy with the blessing of bilingualism, and very tender-hearted towards people with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.  Perhaps I connect with them more easily than with people of my own culture.  I’m not sure why.  I would like to continue to work in an international, multilingual setting in one form or another.  It makes me very happy.  More than ever, I sense that deciding to continue to teach German has been a serendipitous turn of events for which I no longer feel entirely responsible.  My work with this language has opened so many fascinating doors for me, and I wonder what other doors still lay unopened in my path, and what waits behind them.

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