Seventeen students travelled to Heidelberg in August to participate in MUN's first German Field School. Organized by Marcella Rollmann, Department of German and Russian, the four-week field school was the culmination of three Web-based spring term courses offered by MUN's Department of German.
Ms. Rollmann explained that while teachers do their best to make their language and culture courses the next best thing to being there, there is no substitute for first-hand exposure in the target country.
In the case of these three spring term courses, the students first completed Web-based assignments for 12 weeks in preparation for their trip to Heidelberg and then actually continued their studies in Germany at the Heidelberg Language Institute. The unique Web-based/study abroad format maximized the accessibility of these courses by students in and out of St. John's and even out of the province. One student completed the Web-based part of the courses from Ottawa, where she participated at the same time in an intensive French course and then teamed up with the group for the trip to Heidelberg.
Student response was overwhelmingly positive, said Ms. Rollmann. Since their classes in Germany were taught without a word of English, student oral comprehension and speaking improved markedly, and their maturing as far as cultural awareness is priceless.
The impact on the students can be found in these quotations from student diaries: "On the bus ride to Heidelberg I received a gigantic culture shock: the landscape was beautiful, the architecture was simply breathtaking."
"Heidelberg is the most beautiful city I have ever seen."
"This is the best day of my life."
"Today I spoke without translating first in my head."
(On giving directions to a stranger). "She didn't know that I'm not German. She spoke at the same speed that she would speak to anyone. But I understood her. I'm starting to notice a real difference in my comprehension."
"I would recommend this experience to anyone."
"I plan to return here again next summer."
Without even announcing plans for the second German Field School, Ms. Rollmann already has a growing list of students who have expressed interest.
German Work terms
The Canadian Association of University Teachers of German, in collaboration with the Central Manpower Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, offers a program of work and travel in Germany every year from the end of May until the end of August.
This year six MUN students, the largest group ever from Newfoundland, were successful in being placed in a wide variety of jobs in Germany. Aleksandra Stefanovic worked at the high-tech firm of Festo in Stuttgart, where she put in nine-hour days on an assembly line. After the summer abroad she said it was easier for her to speak German than English when she first returned to St. John's.
Brian Dunphy packaged and delivered paper for a wholesale business in Hannover. He had "to think and speak in German most of the time," not only at work but also with the family where he lived. Brian found the trip to be "an amazing and valuable learning experience. Living like that ... in another country, absorbing the culture, the language, and everything else is incredible."
He also managed to visit Paris, Prague, Amsterdam, and Berlin during his off hours.
Robin Tucker worked in a cuckoo clock and souvenir shop in the Black Forest. She had to speak German to her co-workers, to the many German tourists who came into the historic shop, and to her neighbour who spoke no English. To Robin, living in Germany "is definitely the best way to learn."
The other three work-term participants were Ashley Sweetland, Christina Tuff and Vivienne Medri.
The large number of participants in both the study and work programs demonstrates that students recognize the value of experiencing another culture and learning another language, said Ms. Rollmann. Many of these students hope to return to Germany next summer. Two are currently studying French at the Frecker Institute in St. Pierre before returning to their German studies at MUN. And Vivienne is continuing her studies at Keele University in England through the MUN/Keele exchange.