(New) Ulm: The Guessing Quiz

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After a long hiatus, the Files is taking you back to Minnesota and the German-named villages. Just like with the villages of Bergen and New Trier, the next stop will look at the largest of the 12 villages in Minnesota that carries a name that is common in Germany, comparing the US town with the one straddling the Danube River at the borders between Baden Wurrtemberg and Bavaria.

New Ulm was one of the first villages established after the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed in 1851, which allowed the settlers to claim lands in the southern half of the state of Minnesota. The town was established in 1854, four years before the state entered the Union.  The German equivalent, Ulm, dates back to the time of the Germanic tribes of the 11th Century. Yet thanks to the Napoleon Conquest combined with the rise of King Ludwig II, the city was subsequentially split along river lines in 1810. On the BW side, there is Ulm, on the Bavarian side, Neu-Ulm. Yet both the German communities and the one in Minnesota have parallel lives.

Before looking at the two communities further, here’s a Guessing Quiz for you to try out. One of which features a Mystery Building question. Without further ado, here are a few questions for you to try, with the answers to be given once the article is published:

Mark which cities has what for a place of interest, either with NU-G (Ulm/Neu Ulm, Germany), NU-US (New Ulm, US) or both.

  1. Cathedral

  2. Fort

  3. University

  4. Railway Station

  5. German-Bohemian Monument

  6. Hermann the German Monument

  7. Professional soccer team

  8. Brewery

  9. American-style street patterns

  10. Streets named after American celebrities

  11. Oktoberfest

  12. Christmas market

  13. Fachwerkhäuser (as seen in the picture)

  14. Canals that merge with a major river.

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MYSTERY BUILDING:  This building, features a water tower with a red-white checkerboard pattern located next to a shed. While the building is being used for residential purposes, the water tower is out uf use at the present time. The question is when this water tower was built and what was its original purpose? One clue to help: This is located near the Institute of Technology of Neu Ulm, in an area where the US Army was once stationed until 1991. What else do we know about this?

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GUESSING QUIZ:  This tower is located at the north end of New Ulm’s business district. What is its purpose? What is the name of the tower and who built it?

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Both cities had their share of conflicts and celebrities. Can you name at least one conflict that each town faced? Can you identify two people from each town that became celebrities and in what way?

Good luck with the guessing attempts. The answers will follow. :-)

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Note: The bridges from both towns will appear in separate articles in the sister column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Each place has its share of history with these crossings.

In School in Germany: Teachers and Burn-Out Syndrome

Goethe Gymnasium in Flensburg, taken from the Südermarkt. Photo taken in 2011

Goethe Gymnasium in Flensburg, taken from the Südermarkt. Photo taken in 2011

To start out this entry, here is a pop quiz for you to try:

Choose the situation where a person is NOT burned out and why?

SITUATION A:  Tom has been teaching third graders for 15 years at a school in Cleveland, Ohio. His preference is working with kids with serious social issues, such as drug addiction, uncontrollable behaviors and aggression towards others, just to name a few. Yet one day, he submits his letter of resignation out of the blue. Reason: He had spent more time testing the kids and evaluating them than he had ever had time to create various activities, resulting in him being detached from his teaching duties and his private life but at the same time, doing work similar to a robot. He blames the Ohio State Legislature for these tests and the budget cuts that have affected the state school system.

SITUATION B: Katie teaches sixth grade music at a school in Madison, Wisconsin. She also has obligations as an organist and a choir director. Yet the last three years, she experienced a loss of energy, insomnia and a sense of negative energy towards her work that in the end, all she could do is recommend to others not to take up a career. When she resigns from her post, she is replaced by three people who shared her duties. She is now a substitute teacher but despite loving the job, she is looking for something different.

SITUATION C: Susan teaches high school English at a Gymnasium in Glauchau in the German state of Saxony. Coming off a divorce, she finds that her work was underappreciated and despite demanding for more pay, she still receives 1,600 Euros a month, barely enough to make ends meet, especially as she has to cover court costs including child support. One day, she ghosts the school, disappearing into the sunset without telling anyone, only to be found trying to take her own life on the peninsula of Holnis northeast of Flensburg by drowning herself in rum. Luckily for her, a stranger walking by stops her and helps her.

SITUATION D: James teaches Social Studies and History at an International School in Hamburg. In the past two weeks, he only had an average of four hours of sleep because of a project he and his class had been doing on immigration and integration in Germany. Suddenly, during the presentation of the topic and standing in front of a crowd of 250 people, he becomes dizzy and blacks out. The next thing he knew, he is in the hospital and is subsequentially assigned to rehabilitation for a sleeping disorder.

SITUATION E: It is the end of the semester at the university in Mannheim and Corrina has had it. After a rigorous semester where the assistant professor of civil and mechanical engineering had to contend with paperwork involving grants, a cheating scandal involving students in one of her seminars, and a horrendous workload involving 22 hours of teaching, combined with a break-up with her partner of 7 years, she decides to take three weeks off and engages in a long-distance bike tour entitled “Tour of Tears,” which she soaks in the experience of visiting towns between Basel and Emden and feels better after the trip.

While the answer will appear at the end of this article, each example inhibits the symptoms of a mental illness that has taken hold on our society, thanks to the changes in working environment where the quality of work is being trumped by the quantity put in. Burn-out syndrome was first diagnosed by Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, but despite the different symptoms discovered by doctors and scientists, Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson in 1981 narrowed them down to three key categories, namely physical exhaustion, depersonalization- meaning cynicism and dissociation from work and lastly, low personal accomplishment and appreciation. The same duo created the Maslach Burn-out inventory, which features 22 questions to determine if and to what degree the person has burn-out. The German scientific organization Arbeitsbezogener Verhaltens- und Erlebensmuster (AVEM) created four classes of burn-out syndrome, ranging from type G being a slight case (tiredness and agitation), to type A, which represents the worst case as severe depression, obsession compulsive disorder and suicidal thoughts and/or attempts are common.  Burn-out syndrome is most commonly found in white-collar jobs, where people with office jobs work longer hours and have more demanding tasks than those working in the blue-collar jobs. Even more so are the teachers, police officers, administrators and government officials affected by this disorder, for the jobs demand human contact and a set of ethical rules to follow, something that is difficult to do, especially if one is a teacher.

Yet how is burn-out syndrome a serious problem among teachers? According to a survey conducted by German scientists Bauer, Unterbrink, Hack and others and involving questionnaires and observations, the teaching profession ranks number one as the most underappreciated job, number one as the job where a person can retire the earliest and sadly, number one on the list of professions where a person is most likely to develop psychological disorders, such as burn-out syndrome on the short scale, but on the long scale, the person can develop non-communicable diseases like cancer, stroke and/or even heart disease. In a survey conducted with 949 teachers in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, burn-out syndrome is more prevalent among those who are either single or divorced than those in a relationship or are married, yet the average person suffering from the disease has the second worst type of burn-out- type B, which features depression symptoms, lack of concentration and creativity, dissociation from the job, indifference, and unchecked aggression.

The causes of burn-out among teachers are numerous and unfortunately universal, no matter which country you plan to teach. If there was a top five of the causes, they would start out with the lack of funding and support for the education system as being problem numero uno. Budget cuts means less money for materials, including books and technical equipment and lower salaries and less job security among teachers. Right behind that is the increase in paperwork in terms of administering more tests than necessary, rewriting the curriculum, documenting the results of tests for each student and filling out forms that justify the ordering of materials for class. The end result is less preparatory time for classes, less time for students and less time to create one’s own activities for class.  Number three is dealing with parents of delinquent pupils. This means instead of standing by the teachers in disciplining their kid, the parents are standing by the kids and cursing the teachers for not getting the job done. Schools have witnessed an increase in helicopter parents in the past 10 years, sometimes to a point where teachers have to handle not just the kids but also their parents in terms of discipline.  Number four is the lack of appreciation for the work put in. This can not only happen in the school when staff criticizes the work. It is worse at home when you receive little or no support from your loved ones because their work and your work is totally different. This happens to even those who are student-teaching for even a limited time. And lastly, the problem of balancing work and family life has become a major problem even recently. That means teachers are competing with white collar workers at a financial or multi-national company for the most number of hours a week clocked in- between 50 and 60 hours a week to be exact. Normally, teachers are entitled to work between 35 and 40 hours a week, as their job is on the same level as a governmental official. This explains the reason behind an increase in protests in Germany in the past five years, as many states have attempted to reduce funding to their education system due to less income brought on by taxes.

During my practical training at a Gymnasium in Thuringia, I observed a wide spectrum of veteran teachers who were affected by burn-out in one way or another. A couple of them had recovered through treatment prior to my arrival in March 2014, yet others appeared to be frustrated by the workload that had increased. One of them had the cheek to use a Dr. McCoy- Star Trek line during a class while doing some office duties with the students, saying “Dammit! I’m a teacher, not an administrator!” Some of the frustration also stemmed from the delinquent behavior by the students, namely those between grades six and eight.  Even some of the student teachers can get hammered by symptoms of burn-out for a combination of stress and long hours can result in the body not being able to fend off the unthinkable for viruses. This was the experience I had in the first month, where I was downed by a virus thanks to the lack of hours of rest plus getting adjusted to the working environment. Four weeks being bed-ridden, yet my colleague was nice to respond with this comment “Welcome to school. You survived the initiation ceremony!” Some initiation party I went through!  :-/

But yet, there is a good point when it comes to being a teacher: one needs to have nerves of steel and a heart of metal alloy, ticking 24-7 in order to survive the profession. That means one needs the following four Ps in order to be a successful teacher: passion, persistence, perseverance and patience, followed by a wild card P, meaning pride. This means a dedicated teacher nowadays needs to survive the increase in bureaucracy and politics, the complaints from parents, the disinterest of the students and the dog-eat-dog competition from colleagues, while at the same time, walk one’s own line in terms of the curriculum, creating activities, teaching and keeping the students in line and knowing when to say when. Sometimes when one speaks softly he needs to carry a big stick- and use it too!  Yet it is not easy if you find yourself feeling worn down, rejected and detached from your job, your family and even your own environment. Therefore while various forms of counseling and therapy are available, one has to sit down take stock at the situation, make a list of benefits and drawbacks to teaching, including the successes and problems in school, and make a plan where one says this is what I will do in addition to my teaching duties, but no more than that.  It is hard to do that, but in the end, it is doable. This is why in SITUATION E, where Corrina decides to take a break from her job and do the bike tour, it was because she wanted nothing more than to avoid burn-out. And sometimes, a hobby like a long-distance bike tour can help a person reflect on the job and recover for the next round.

And so to end this segment on burn-out, here is a question to all the teachers out there: when was there a time when you had burn-out and how did it happen? How did you handle the problem and why? And lastly, did it affect your decision to remain a teacher?  The Files would love to hear your stories about them, even if you keep your name anonymous.

While I had my whiff of burn-out during my practical training, it did not influence my decision to remain a teacher for one good reason: on my last day of class at the Gymnasium, a group of sixth graders, who were royal PITAs during my time teaching them, gave me a thank you card and a standing ovation! If a group of trouble-makers showing their appreciation towards your work does not convince you to remain a teacher, like mine did, what will? :-)

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Author’s note: The situations are partially made up but a couple instances were based on true stories and accounts by people known by the author. The names and places mentioned here are fictitious and are in no way connected to these stories.

In School in Germany: The Answers to the Geography Quiz

Finally, after having the questions open for you to guess for over a year, here are the answers to the FlFi Quiz on Geography, based on an article which you can click here. Some of the answers will come as a surprise. :-)

  1. Peaches are an important commodity in Egypt. True or False? If false, what crops grow there?

ANS: FALSE Citrus fruits and grapes (fruit), rice and cotton are important for Egypt. 

 

  1. QUARTZITE, IRON ORE, GRANITE, LIMESTONE, PEAT, COPPER & NICKEL are the  minerals that can be found in Minnesota. Of which, IRON ORE (SPEC: TALCONITE)  is still being mined there in the MESABI Iron Range

 

  1. What is the capital of Palau?  a. Ponce          b. Melekeok      c. Koror                               d. Kauai               e. Kuala Lumpur

 

 

  1. Honey is produced in Canada. True or False? If false, what is produced there?

ANS: FALSE, MAPLE IS PRODUCED IN CANADA

 

 

  1. Which country has the highest crime rate in the world? Why?

a. Mexico        b. Germany       c.  USA                 d. Russia              e. China               f. Poland

MEXICO DUE TO THE HIGH RATE OF DRUG TRAFFICKING, ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION AND HOMICIDES

 

 

  1. Which province in the Ukraine joined the Russian Federation in 2014 and which ones want to join?

a.: CRIMEA_; b.: DONETSK AND LUHANSK

 

 

  1. The Rust Belt, consisting of the states of OHIO, WEST VIRGINIA, PENNSYLVANIA, AND INDIANA and the cities of INDIANAPOLIS, PITTSBURGH, PHILADELPHIA, CLEVELAND AND CINCINNATI,  received its name because of what industry that existed between 1860 and ca. 1970?

a. Steel             b. Tobacco          c. Iron                   d. corn                 e. wood               f. both a&c

 

 

  1. Rice is grown in Iowa. True or False? If false, which US state grows rice?    FALSE, MINNESOTA 

 

 

  1. Which Eastern European Countries became part of the Warsaw Pact in 1955? Hint: there are seven countries not counting Yugoslavia? POLAND, CZECHOSLOVAKIA, HUNGARY, ALBANIA, ROMANIA, BULGARIA, SOVIET UNION

 

 

  1. Catholicism is the predominant religion in which German states?  BAVARIA  &  BADEN WURTTEMBERG

 

 

  1. Albert Lea, Minnesota was named after an explorer who founded the region. True or False?    TRUE, ALBERT MILLER LEA DISCOVERED A LAKE IN 1847, WHICH WAS FIRST NAMED FOX LAKE BUT WAS LATER RENAMED AFTER HIM. 

In School in Germany: The Culling of Quatsch in German

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How to eliminate trash from the German language in order to make it more sophisticated

A few weeks ago, you know, there was like a cool article from that whatchamacallit online thing, where writers, like put down something like 15 words that should, you know, be eliminated from the vocabulary, because they are, like very dailylike and not good for use in college. Do you know wha I’m sayin?

First reaction from the audience: “Mr. Smith, can you please repeat that? I don’t know what you are saying.” (Typical reaction from a dedicated student from Denmark learning English for her job.”

Again: Don’t ya know, there was like an article on taking out stuff from the language, you know, English. It was like we cannot use these words because they are, you know, babylike…..

Second reaction from the audience: Basketball star Elena Delle Donne shakes her head in disbelief and puts on her headset listening to some iTune music, getting mentally prepared for the next WNBA basketball game. Yet at the same time, a hysterical mother of three stands up and says this as a third reaction:

“If you say one more like, I’m gonna pound you! Do you know how many likes you’ve said in a MINUTE?!!”

You can imagine, how many responses came out regarding the article that was posted in the Files’ facebook pages as well as the pages in the circles dealing with Anglo-Saxon and German cultures: in the short paragraph above, identify the words that probably made it to the list made by the newspaper and in the group circles.

While English is becoming more diluted with slangs and other expressions, which is making the language less sophisticated in both the oral and written senses, the German language unfortunately is suffering from a similar fate.

Take a look at the example that a former colleague from a German Hochschule where I taught for two years  received from a student of civil engineering via e-mail:

Hi, ich hab mal ne frage zur presentation, wir sollen die ja schon 2 wochen vorher abgeben, was is aber wenn wir später noch was ändern wollen, ich glaub kaum das ich schon 2 wochen vorher die finale version der presentation hab und die 2 wochen lang für gut befinde und nichts mehr dran ändere, auserdem wollt ich wissen wann ich jez eigentlich meine presentation hab jez wies aussieht alles nach hinten verschoben und ich weis nich mehr wann meine dann ist…..

In English:

Hi! I have a question regarding my presentation. We should hand it in two weeks beforehand. However, what if we have to change something? We doubt our presentation will be done beforehand. In addition, I would like to know if it is possible to push my presentation date back and if so, when. (This is a shortened translation of the German text, by the way.)

This is from a native speaker of German. Do you trust him constructing the next bridge carrying a German Autobahn? Especially the one being planned at Rendsburg over the Baltic-North Sea Canal in the next two years?

If you are a German academic or an expatriate who has lived in Germany for more than ten years, like I have, you will see the mistakes in less than a second.  Sadly, more and more e-mails, papers, documents and even theses are containing words that do not belong in the German language if a person wants to write like Goethe or Schiller- words like: geil, doch, noch, was and –ne, as well as some Denglish words, such as liken, downloaden, fischen, etc. While one could communicate them orally (but please, sparingly), they do not belong on paper.

So what is there to do about the erosion of the German language? It is a surefire fact that we need to eliminate some stuff from the German language in order to make it pure again, just like with the English language. And while Germans have adopted many words from English that can be used, and vice versa, there are some words that just do not belong in the vocabulary, period.

If you were a German teacher, which words would you like to see your pupils NOT use- both orally as well as written? Here are the English words that many people have listed that should be at least capped for use:

Whatever, like, awesome, umm, stuff, thing, honestly, irregardless, would of (instead of would have), actually, viral, addicting, just, maybe, really, very, went, that, literally, and absolutely.

Und du? Welche deutsche Wörter möchtest du zum Verwenden begrenzen, außer was erwähnt wurden? Her mit deiner Liste in the Flensburg Files Comment page, sowie in den anderen Seiten und wir freuen uns auf den Vergleich zwischen den englischen und den deutschen Wörten!

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Genre of the Week: America is not the greatest nation on the face of the Earth any more- The Newsroom

This entry looks at not only the genre of the week, but also a Frage für das Forum on the role of the United States as its world superpower. Or is it still?

Since moving to Germany in 1999, one of the hottest small talk topics that I’ve encountered both on the streets as well as in the classroom has been the US. And being an American expatriate from Minnesota, growing up right next to Iowa, I have not been afraid to talk about any issues the people bring up at the table, such as politics, social issues, history, culture, sports and even the people living there.  And growing up during the age of Reaganomics, Bushisms and Clintongate, I have seen America from both sides of the spectrum, watching it lead efforts to defeat communism and the former Soviet satellites open the gates to freedom, while at the same time, sow the seeds of terrorism with their lack of efforts in rebuilding Afghanistan, resulting in this day of infamy known as 11 September, 2001.

Yet still, many of us still speak of the glory days that either existed prior to 9/11 or in the eyes of many, still exist but in bits and pieces. I remember when President Obama won the Presidential elections in 2008, during my first year as lecturer of English at the University of Bayreuth, there was that feeling of a divide between those who wanted to cling on to the glory days of American exceptionalism, as demonstrated by George W. Bush, and those who were aware of the problems the US was facing at home and abroad. I can remember my dad’s question of which country was the greatest nation on the face of the Earth in terms of military and economics and his fury when I responded with “China.”  I didn’t say that without a good reason, by the way.

And this takes us to this genre of the week and in particular, this video clip from the TV show, “The Newsroom,” produced in 2012. In this scene, we have a forum where the professors are taking questions about America and its role in the world- and this in the thicket of a hefty debate. And while the first two were able to answer the question about America being the land of the free and prosperous, the third one, William McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels), who always responded with the fact that he was a fan of the New York Jets American football team, he rose to the occasion, tired of all the bickering that was going on around him, and said this about America….

Now if this is not a jaw-dropper, then what is? But it lead me into providing this question for the forum, as we’ve heard a lot about America’s ever-changing role, both on the home front as well as abroad:

How do you perceive America in your eyes today, whether you are an American living abroad or at home, whether you are a German or European, and whether you are a writer, teacher, politician or have another occupation?

Where do we see America going in 20 years?

What are some items that were common in the 80s and 90s that you would like to see again?

If we say that America is still the greatest today because of all our might that we have, how can we prove it?

These are questions that need to be answered as the country is at the crossroads in terms of their policies, societal issues at home and its relations with other countries. If we choose to ignore the problems we have, we choose to ignore ourselves, and with that, we choose to ignore the consequences of our actions.

Think about it.

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Flensburg: 23 May, 1945

German Naval Academy in Flensburg: Once part of the last Nazi stronghold in 1945

German Naval Academy in Flensburg: Once part of the last Nazi stronghold in 1945

Flensburg: 23 May, 1945. The war in the European theater was officially over. Hitler and Goebbels, along with many of his followers were dead. After signing the agreement of unconditional surrender of the German armies in northwestern Europe to British Field General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery near Hamburg on May 4th and Nazi Colonel General Alfred Jodl agreed to unconditional surrender to US General Dwight Eisenhower three days later at Rheims (France), millions of Europeans celebrated V-E Day, as Nazi Germany became no more.

Or was it?

On this day, 70 years ago, the last pocket of the Nazi government surrendered to British forces stationed in Flensburg, Germany. Jack Churcher had installed his post in the southern part of the city center at Norderhofendem 1, and British troops had taken control of the northernmost city in Germany. In comparison to other cities, Flensburg sustained minimal damage, and much of the city’s population was well-fed and dressed. They were for the most part aware that the war was coming to an end, and according to historian, Gerhard Paul in an interview with the SHZ Newspaper Group, “It was a matter of time before this absurd came to an end.” With the British troops entering Flensburg, the Nazi era had come to an end.

All except for the suburb of Mürwik, located on the eastern end of the harbor.

There, a small area in the suburb, extending for six kilometers and including the Naval Academy, was still under de facto Nazi control. Admiral Karl Dönitz had assumed power as the German president after Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels committed suicide on 30 April- 1 May, 1945.  Realizing that the war was lost, he and his remaining government officials fled the oncoming Soviet troops to Flensburg to set up a government there. The goal was to get as many fleeing German troops out of Berlin and out of reach of the Soviet troops and eventually broker terms of surrender to the western allies of the US, Britain and France. Originally they wanted to defend what was left of Nazi Germany, but they lacked the manpower and the ammunition for the efforts. After securing the agreements, it was a matter of time before the enclavement would be revealed, and the rest of the Nazi regime would surrender. Yet how they held out for so long until this date, the 23rd remains a mystery. Yet, as seen in the film produced by Pathé, soldiers of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, were in for a surprise when they found out not only how many people were holed up in Mürwik but who held out until the very end:

This leads to two main questions that are worth discussing:

  1. Why did Dönitz and his government wait for so long until they were discovered by British troops and were arrested? Could they not have surrendered to Churcher?

  2. As Dönitz claimed to have power in Germany, even after the agreements were signed and the war ended, would it not have made sense to declare 23 May as V-E Day and the end of Nazi Germany instead of May 8th?

Perhaps these questions will be speculated for a long time and may never be answered, but for Albert Speer, the architect of Hitler’s who received 20 years of prison time, “Flensburg was considered only the stage for the Third Reich, but nothing more than that.”  But why the town of Flensburg, of all the places Dönitz could have chosen? Was it an escape route for him and his people to flee the country through Denmark and the seas? Were there that many people sympathizing with the Third Reich, even though numbers indicate much lower support? Was it because of the navy, the rum, the beer? We may never know….

Today, Flensburg is a thriving city with many multi-cultural aspects. It still has the largest number of Danish people living there, along with many from other countries, even some from the US, Britain and Russia. The Naval Academy is still in business, and the city prides itself with its handball team, rum, beer, and other northern delecacies. But this 70-year old scar still remains, even if the city survived almost entirely unscathed by the war.  Time always has a way of healing, yet memories still remain, even on this day, when Dönitz and his men were arrested for their crimes, of holding the city (and in particular, one of the suburbs) hostage despite the war being over, and were brought to justice. This, in my eyes, was the real end of the European theater of World War II, and with that, a chapter in history we must never repeat again, period.

 

Note: Check out this documentary on the Flensburg Fiasco in German, as reported by SHZ, here. It was the last of the series written on the 70th anniversary of the End of World War II. A guide to earlier articles you find on the SHZ web, here.

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Gandhi’s Letter

This week’s Literature/Genre of the Week takes us back to World War II and many failed attempts to avoid it- in particular, many failed attempts to keep a tyrant from conducting one of (if not the) most heinous crimes against humanities to date.  There are a lot of interesting facts that have appeared recently about Adolf Hitler, who ruled Germany from 1933 until his suicide in 1945. This includes the top 10 from a news source in India (see article here.) He was one of the greatest orators of all time, but one who was obsessed with strategies of how to conquer Europe and the rest of the world. He was the most feared in the eyes of many politicians in other countries, who tried to appease him at any cost, pleading with him not to start the war machine at a time when the majority of the world was in the worst economic depression of all time. Many letters were written to him asking him to reconsider.

This included the one written by a peace activitist.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (known throughout the world as Mahatma Gandhi) was a peace activist who first led a movement to ease restrictions the British Empire had imposed on its colonial state, India, but later led a non-violent movement called “Quit India,” demanding Indian independence from the British Commonwealth and rejecting Indian involvement in World War II, both of which were successful. India obtained its independence in 1947 in spite the violence that accompanied it, setting the stage for the break-up of the empire that occurred in Africa and Asia over the course of 35 years. Known as “The Father of India,” a national holiday in India, combined with the international day of non-violence, takes place every year on October 2nd, Gandhi’s birthday.

Gandhi was known for his non-violence movements and his staunch criticism of World War II, arguing against the use of force to put down the regimes of Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Italy, claiming that if so and through self-sacrifice, the death toll would not have been as high as it was. Although this was met with heavy criticism among western nations and the Jewish community, some of the points made were worth considering for World War II was one of the most destructive wars on record, with up to 75% of the cities destroyed and as many German lives being lost as those from the Holocaust This does not include the loss of life among soldiers outside Germany. The war is still considered by many in Germany a delicate topic to discuss because it eventually reshaped Germany and the rest of the European landscape, veering away from empires and tyrannies and embracing the principles of democracy initiated by the United States as the new superpower and its allies when the war ended in 1945.

Yet Gandhi was also aware of the actions of Hitler and attempted to persuade him to change his mind with a letter he wrote to the dictator, explaining the effects of starting the war in Europe. This was what he wrote, as read by Clarke Peters at the BBC Studios in London:

 

 

Written in 1939, the letter never arrived in Berlin and subsequentially, World War II started with the German invasion of Poland on 2 September, 1939. It lasted until 7 May, 1945 but not before leaving a scar that will never go away, but will always be remembered for years to come. Gandhi never lived to see a new German democratic state and a socialist state, for he was assasinated on 30 January, 1948. West Germany was created out of the regions occupied by the US, Great Britain and France on 23 May, 1949. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was formed on 7 October, 1949. It would be another 41 years until Germany was reunited in 1990. Yet the question still remains: what would have happened, had Gandhi’s letter arrived in Berlin and Hitler had a chance to read it? Would he have reconsidered or would he have ignored it? While history scholars will refute over one claim or another, the answer remains the same: we will never know.

 

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At Home or Homesick? The Challenges of Living Abroad

As I was preparing an article on schooling in Germany, I happened to stumble across a question for the forum in a group consisting of American expatriates living in Germany dealing with feeling at home in Germany in comparison to living in the USA. The question was whether the expats regret living in Germany and if so, why. Within an hour of its posting, dozens of responses from members of the group came in, and the results were porous. The majority of respondents were of the opinion if there was a opportunity to return to the US, they would, in a heartbeat!

Now why would so many people want to say that about a country like Germany, which prides itself on its social security and health care network, as well as education, culture, sports, landscapes and the like?  Factors, such as difference in mentalities, difficulties making friends, xenophobia bureaucracy, job opportunities and even language barriers were mentioned, as well as missing some of the things that they were used to back home.

In the 15 years that I’ve been living in Germany, I’ve seen the good and bad sides of Germany, some of the latter that would technically scare off people wanting to live in the country, such as the lack of flexibility in the job market (my biggest pet peeve, since I’m an English teacher and blogger), the politicians trying to cut programs that are beneficial to the people, encounters with Skinheads, aggressive drivers and superficial relationships- where you are only friends with your colleagues if you have something to do with a project. But if compared to the US, some of the problems mentioned are also well known over there.

But perhaps the dissatisfaction may have to do with the decline in good relations between Berlin and Washington, which has become imminent thanks to the Spygate scandal earlier this year involving the NSA. Since the activities of the NSA were brought to light, many Americans living abroad have been put at a disadvantage thanks to additional policies by the US to put them more on a leash and Germans have even distanced themselves from the Americans abroad. This includes the latest proposal by the American tax agency IRS, which has triggered many Americans to trade in their US citizenship for one in their country of residency (click here for more details).

Despite all this, the question for the forum has gotten me to ask the forum the following:

  1. What are some things that you like about Germany that keeps you living there? The same applies to other countries abroad.
  2. What are some things you miss about the US that you can NOT get abroad?
  3. What improvements would you like to see in the place you’re living?
  4. And for those seriously thinking about moving back to the US, what factors would influence your decision about returning home?

In the 15 years living abroad, I still haven’t found anything that would convince me to return home, for there are many things that are keeping me here. Interestingly enough, more people I know are even thinking about moving abroad because Germany has more to offer than what they have at home. To give you a classic example, in a southern Minnesota town with 3,500 inhabitants, I am one of four people who are living here in Germany, two of them happen to be in the same graduating class as I am! After being the only one from the community living in Germany for 15 years, I received company from the other three, who moved to Germany with their families this year. Despite this,  we all have our reasons for living here.  Yet we have collected our share of experiences both good and bad. Many of them I’ve mentioned here in the Files. More will come in the Files as many themes will come to light that will be talked about.

But seriously, what keeps you here in Germany (or abroad) and what would you like to see changed? Put your thoughts and discussion either in the Comment section or in the Files’ facebook page and let’s get a discussion going on this theme, shall we? After all, many of us have enough experience to share, much of which will appear in the Files soon.

In School in Germany: Substitute Teachers or Flexible Class Schedule?

What happens when your teacher is sick and the planned course schedule for that particular day has to be postponed or cancelled? This question may be a no-brainer to some, yet inquiring minds want to know. With the increase in absences because of illness among the teachers due to stress (some resulting from burn-out syndrome) and other viruses that students bring to the classroom on a daily basis, it is important to find out how schools plan ahead so that the students do not fall behind in their classes.

Each school system has its own guidelines with regards to Plan B, regardless of which state or region it is located. In the United States, it is normal to find a substitute teacher taking over classes in case if illness or family emergencies. Substitute teachers are very flexible in a way that they can jump in at any time when they are needed. While some of them bring the knowledge they learned in their education programs at the university to continue teaching- picking up where the absent teacher left off, others elect not to take up the chore and decide either for study hall (meaning students have a chance to catch up on their work in other classes) or other activities. One of the substitute teachers at a junior high school I attended in Minnesota was into reading and therefore, read us many stories during the class period. While she has long since passed, she encouraged others like yours truly to pick up a book from time to time and burn through the pages.

The other plan B can be found in many schools in Germany. If one class is cancelled because of illness or other serious matter, another class takes its place, taught by the teacher.  That means if an English class taught by Mrs. Steinkreuz (for example) is cancelled because she had the stomach flu, that class is replaced by another class, such as History with Mr. Hermann, Ethics with Ms. DeJesus or even French by Madame Moiselle.  The reason for such a flexible class change is simple: Unlike the US, which runs mostly a strict schedule where courses are taught at a certain time every day and teachers have to keep to the plan, Germany’s schedule, at least on the high school level, resembles that of a college class schedule, where students elect to choose certain classes that fit their schedule. Granted that (foreign) language, history and social studies, and sciences must be in the mix, but a flexible schedule enables the student to work with their studies to ensure they have them completed at their pace, while teachers have a chance to further their planning. Some class replacements may have to do with a teacher having an extended session to watch a film, while others may be in connection with a field trip that was planned. In either case, this flexibility does have some advantages. Yet one notable disadvantage is that a sudden change in scheduling can also put the planning of both the students as well as the teacher out of alignment, which means that some topics planned for the session may have to be either postponed or even cancelled; a disadvantage for the teacher as well as some students that were eager to learn about it.

But it does not mean that schools in Germany do not have substitute teachers.  They are usually available to jump in should plan B does not work. It can consist of someone from another school, one working part time in the school system, Referendar (those teaching on a probationary basis for 1-2 years before being hired full time by the state) and the interns doing their Praxissemester (like yours truly did).  Sometimes substitute teachers can also have a positive impact in a way that they can keep the schedule in tact as much as possible while allowing the students to complete their work on their topic without missing the beat.  But as I noticed from my experience in the Praxissemester, even that combination has its limits, especially when  many teachers are absent due to stress-related issues, which will be discussed later when talking about Burn-out Syndrome, and the number of substitutes are limited, both in numbers as well as in knowledge. In the case of the interns, they require a hired staff when teaching a session, to ensure that they are not overrun by the students in class. A concept that is understandable when the intern is 22 years of age (on average) and does not know if the profession is the right one.

Keeping the pros and cons of substitute teaching and replacement sessions in mind, let’s ask the Forum about this topic:

  1. In your school, how does it work when a teacher is absent due to illness or other emergencies? Do you provide a substitute, replace a session with one from another subject or do something totally different?
  2. How have you dealt with teachers who are absent for longer periods of time due to illness, etc. (say more than 1 week)?
  3. If you had a choice between providing a substitute, replacing a session or both, which option would you choose and why?

Place your comments here or in the Files’ facebook page and share some information on how you deal with absenteeism among teachers. Sometimes your suggestions and ideas will help others in the long term. As we will eventually talk about Burn-Out Syndrome in the series, the profession can be a highly demanding job that requires teachers with nerves of steel to do the job. However even the teachers have their limits, even yours truly.

In School in Germany: Children of Divorced Parents

Tunnel of Uncertainty

 

 

This entry starts off with a quote to keep in mind: Life is one long tunnel with uncertainty awaiting you. Run as far as you can go and you will be rewarded for your efforts.

The key to success is to have a permanent support group that is there for you whenever you need them. For children, the support group consists of family, such as parents, grandparents and siblings, but also your distant relatives. Yet suppose that is nonexistent?

Divorces have become just as popular a trend as marriage, for in the United States, an average of 3.6 couples out of 1000 people divorce every year, eclipsing the trend of 3.4 couples tying the knot out of 1000. This trend has existed since 2008, despite the parallel decrease of both rates since 2006. In Germany, 49% of married couples split up after a certain time, which is four percentage points less than its American counterpart, but five percentage points higher than the average in the European Union.  Reasons for couples splitting up much sooner have been tied to career chances, lack of future planning, the wish for no children, and in the end, irreconcilable differences.

While the strive for individuality is becoming more and more common in today’s society, the effects of a divorce can especially be felt on the children. In Germany alone, more than 100,000 children are affected by a divorce every year with 1.3 million of them living with only one parent. The psychological effects of a divorce on a child is enormous. They lose their sense of security when one parent has to leave and may never be seen again. In addition, families and circle of friends split up, thus losing contact with them. Sometimes children are the center of many legal battles between divorced parents which can result in intervention on the legal level. They feel isolated and sometimes engage in risky and sometimes destructive behavior, especially later on in life.  When one parent remarries, it can be difficult to adjust to the new partner, even if that person has children from a previous relationship.

In school, children have a sense of difficulty in handling homework and other tasks and therefore, their performance decreases. Furthermore, they can become more unfocused and agitated towards other people, including the teacher- sometimes even aggressive. Depression, anxiety and indifference follows. Surprisingly though, adolescents are more likely to process the affects of a divorce better than children ages 10 and younger. Yet without a sense of hominess and love, children of divorced parents feel like running through a long tunnel of uncertainty, with no end in sight, as seen in this picture above.

During my time at the Gymnasium, I encountered an example of a student, whose parents divorced a year earlier. He was a sixth grader with potential, yet after the parents split up, his performance, interest in the subjects and attitude towards others decreased dramatically, causing concern among his teachers. While I had a chance to work with him while team-teaching English with a colleague who is in charge of the 6th grade group, one of things that came to mind is how schools deal with students of divorced parents.

In the US, intervention is found on three different level, beginning with school counselors and peer groups on the local,  psychologists on the secondary level, who help both parents and children affected by the divorce, and the tertiary level, which involves forms of law enforcement, should the situation get out of hand.  In Germany however, according to sources, no such intervention exists, leaving the parents on their own to contend with the effects of the divorce, and teachers (many with little or no experience) to deal with the behavior of the students, most of which is that of a “one size fits all” approach, which is not a very effective approach when dealing with special cases like this one. Reason for the lack of intervention is the lack of personnel, cooperation and funding for such programs, with areas in the eastern half being the hardest hit. However such programs, like teacher and counselor training, peer programs for students and divorced parents, team teaching and even 1-1 tutoring can be effective in helping these children go through the processes and get their lives back in order, getting them used to the new situation without having their studies and social life be hindered. Without them, it is up to the teacher to help them as much as possible. Yet, as I saw and even experienced first-hand, teachers are not the wonder drug that works wonders on everybody. Their job is to present new things for students to learn and to help them learn and succeed. Therefore additional help to deal with special cases like this one are needed to alleviate the pressure on the teacher and the students.

 

This leads to the following questions for the forum concerning children of divorced parents and intervention:

1. Which school (either in the US or Europe) has a good intervention program that helps children affected by family tragedies and other events, and how does that work in comparison to the existing programs in the US?

2. Have you dealt with children of divorced parents in school? If so, how did you handle them and their parents?

3. Should schools have such an intervention program to help children like these? If so, how should it be structured? Who should take responsibility for which areas? What kind of training should teachers and counselors have?

Feel free to comment one or all of the questions in the Comment section or in the Files’ facebook pages.

 

I would like to end my column with the conclusion of my intervention with my patient. When I and my colleague team-taught, we did it in a way that one of us worked with him, while the other helped the others in the group. Being a group of 23 sixth graders who had English right after lunch, it was a chore and a half, but one that reaped an enormous reward when I left at the conclusion of my practical training. That was- apart from a standing ovation- a handshake from my student with a big thanks for helping him improve on his English. Sometimes a little push combined with some individual help can go a long way, yet if there was a word of advice to give him, it would be one I got from a group of passengers whom I traveled with to Flensburg a few years ago:

Things always go upwards after hitting rock bottom.

In the end, after reaching the light at the end of the tunnel, one will see relief and normalcy just like it was before such an event. It is better to look forward than looking back and regretting the past.

 

Author’s Note:

Here are some useful links about children and divorced parents in both languages that can be useful for you, in addition to what I wrote in this entry. Two of them was courtesy of one of the professors who had dealt with this topic before and was very helpful in providing some ideas and suggestions on how to deal with cases like this. To him I give my sincere thanks. Links:

http://www.familienhandbuch.de/cms/Familienforschung%20Scheidung_und_Trennung.pdf

http://schulpsychologie.lsr-noe.gv.at/downloads/trennung_scheidung.pdf

http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/lib/thesis/2009/2009landuccin.pdf

 

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