So, before coming to Tübingen, I signed up for the “Rent An American” program offered by the German American Institute here in Germany. It was a great opportunity to get involved in the community around me, make sure that my English does not deteriorate too much during my stay here and think about one important question: What kind of image of my own culture do I want to project into the world?

Although it may seem obvious, sometimes when asked to most directly define my own culture, I find it most difficult to answer. So for the first visit that I took to a German classroom as a non-member of the class, I sat down and thought a lot about how to present a critical, yet upbeat version of my perspective of American culture and to engage the kids in the class so that they were actively speaking English and staying focused.

I made a quick slide show on the structural differences between the German and American school systems. But for me, explaining the mere differences was not what I really wanted to bring to the classroom. I wanted to bring a perspective about how stereotypes are not necessarily true and that the same goes for German culture. I know that that is difficult to do in the hour that I was in the classroom, but, at least in my opinion it was definitely worth trying. For me, understanding that stereotypes are not always true is the first step in building intercultural communication skills. I also tried to talk about direct and indirect language, which is another good point at which to introduce cultural differences, because it is something that is very different between American and German culture.

We ended up having a very extended question period, which helped the students to use their English and me to debunk some myths. It was a very interesting experience overall and ended with the students giving me a giant bottle of Almdudler, an Austrian herbal soda. In the terms of German middle-schoolers, this move was pretty big, since going to the store and buying candy or soda is an important part of the day. This is something that I have seen quite often, if I go to the store at about 4 p.m. on any weekday.

The lovely bag of goodies I received from my school visit.

The lovely bag of goodies I received from my school visit.

The second visit was full of some equally interesting questions and surprisingly, the students were able to name all of the states in the U.S. (plus a few cities as well). There were the typical American stereotype questions like “Do you know any movie stars?” (to which I promptly asked if they knew Till Schweiger, a German actor) plus a few more interesting ones, like talking about the Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a German language island in Eastern Pennsylvania to which my Grandmother happens to belong. I was impressed that they had learned about such a small group in their class.

It was great to spend some time visiting a school and I am excited to visit my next one.

Bis bald!