To start off this entry, I have a word of advice to all Americans who are teaching (or will be teaching) and are wishing to gather some valuable experience abroad: Be prepared to be bombarded with questions from your students with regards to your home country, and when answering them, be objective but truthful.
So far in the first week alone at the Gymnasium, I’ve had at least four sessions, where half of the time was spent with Q&A about my native country, my life as a teacher, my favorites and least favorites, and (my most interesting part) views of President Obama and the NSA. We also had some questions about German-American (cultural) differences and a few other items of interest.
For some teaching in Germany for the first time, this will take you by surprise, yet after teaching for a long time, it is the norm for students to throw out questions to be answered from my own view, which is truthfully and objectively. But it brings up a question worth discussing, which is why are Americans still being loved even to this day? Granted we were responsible for first saving western Germany from the tyrants that left scars on Germany’s past and keeping it from becoming part of a regime ruled by another tyrant. We also influenced the eastern half to tear down the Berlin Wall and reunite with its western counterpart. But we also had our dark times with W. in power and him ruining all our political relations and, in the end, the US economy, through his “Texas-style” politics which has sent many Americans fleeing to Canada and Europe.
Yet from a teacher’s point of view, I guess the reason why we are still loved over here in Germany is because of our awareness of the fact that there is a world beyond the country’s borders and the fact that we are more aware of what’s going on than the ones who have never been abroad. Furthermore, apart from our introduction to popular culture to Europe, we have been successfully bringing humor and a “cool” way of handling issues- meaning relaxing, finding ways to make lives even better, making people laugh, and lastly, convincing the ones who are obsessed with cleanliness and extreme planning, there is such a thing as Plan B and beyond, should Plan A fail. As I’ve been in many situations with the last point, having Plan B is my sticking point, as it provides flexibility in finding ways to achieve something.
But in spite of the glamor and positive aspects, we’ve been more honest with ourselves, showing Germans (and on a wider scale, Europeans) the reality of the US, but from an objective point of view. This means showing people what the US really has, which is the good, the bad and interesting sides, and allowing them to look at the country from their own perspective. As the US was touted the hero of democracy in the 1980s and 90s, the country today is still a superpower in many aspects, but has all the problems that Europeans have- with inequality and poverty, problems with education and health care, increased mortality, high unemployment, and more difficulties competing on the international scale because of the domestic problems that we have not been able to handle. By being truthful about ourselves and objective about our country and views in the world has made us more human, more open, but in turn more liked by our European counterparts than we were 30 years back. If admitting our mistakes and being aware of what’s going on is not a big step towards better relations, than I don’t know what is.
So, to close this entry, when asked about the US and the American way of life: be open, be objective but most importantly, be truthful. Give the students all aspects from various points of view. But also show them that we are much better than we were in the past. We were heroes of the past and proud of our heritage, but we are also open to changes to the benefit of the US, its allies and the rest of the world, for we are all human, all friends, and all united in a single cause.
Here are some interesting questions I’ve dealt with so far:
What’s your view of the NSA and its spying?
JS: Both Americans and Europeans find this not cool. Invasion of privacy has no place anywhere because we are entitled to our rights, which includes having our own lives that is not being watched 24/7. Good relations is one thing, but spying, both home and abroad: It’s something that we do not accept both in the US as well as abroad.
What’s your view of Germany in terms of history?
JS: Germany is a country that is looking ahead and taking pride in what it has developed in the last 50 years. Of course many people still remember the dark ages of the Third Reich, yet as we walk away from that, we have taken pride in technological developments and our open mindedness since 1945.
Favorite places in Germany?
JS: There are many in Germany. The northern half is one of my favorite places, especially along the Baltic Sea. Yet there are other places worth exploring, like the mountain areas in central and extreme southern Germany as well as the North Sea.
Apart from the Bratwurst and beer, what else is special about Germany?
JS: Soccer, Handball, its history (esp. when looking at cities, like Berlin), the historic bridges and lastly, the Christmas markets
Favorite City in the US? Favorite American Football Team?
JS: Pittsburgh; The Pittsburgh Steelers
And my favorite one: Are you planning on staying in Germany?
JS: You betcha!