How Learning German Changed My Life

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What do you consider most important in your life? Looking back, was there a single turning point in your life which made you who you are today? Probably, like most of us, life’s most eventful moments come in a series of life-altering experiences.

Does any high school senior ready to graduate know what subject to major in to prepare for the future? Probably students have been told on numerous occasions that they need a college education to get the best available jobs. Maybe and maybe not. One important skill they will need is fluency in another language. As a Fulbright teacher in Germany, I grasped first-hand how the German and American education systems differed.

From early childhood on, the Germans place high value on independence and responsibility. They trust their children. That became very evident this past summer when I visited our German “family” and friends. At one point after several hours of not seeing a four-year old boy, someone inquired about his whereabouts. No one seemed overly concerned though. It truly takes a village to educate. I was reminded by my host that everyone in the family and village plays a part in educating the young people. How refreshing. It turns out the young fellow had been playing with a friend in the village. In my mind, the events would have played out quite differently in the US.

High praise is well-deserved for Germany’s vocational education system. Some of the 9th grade students I taught in Germany left for paid apprenticeships at the end of that year. During their apprenticeships, they continued with specialized classes in their field while they practiced their skills. What impressed me most was the attitude of the Germans regarding vocational education in general. It was not thought inferior to those university-bound students. Quite the contrary: those pursuing vocational subjects were afforded much the same respect. Not everyone needed to attend college. What a novel idea for some American parents. Perhaps it is time to revisit the notion that everyone needs a college education.

Or maybe American parents need to consider free university education in Germany. I credit my parents with inspiring me to study at a German university. My father beamed upon my return home and told me how he had saved a great deal of money on my college education even with the transatlantic flight and cost of living expenses in Germany. I did not fully fathom the weight of those words and their decision to encourage me to study abroad. My life changed forever and for the better.

As a public high school educator, I have been fortunate to have experienced both US and German schools. Do I favor one over the other? I will answer that one by reverting to my first questions in this blog. The single, most powerful event in my education came when I entered my German language classes at the University of Colorado at Boulder. These fueled my desire to study abroad and immerse myself in the language, culture and country of Germany. My passion and life-long love of the language was furthered by becoming a Fulbright teacher in Germany. Twice. Today, I have become who I am because of university studies in Germany and teaching in German schools. I am more flexible and open-minded to the world.

What single thing would I wish for all my students? I would wish that they too could study at least one year in Germany to firmly immerse themselves in the language and culture. I wish that they too could learn more about themselves in the process and become more tolerant individuals. Learning how to learn comes as a big discovery for some in the college years.

So, thanks, Mom and Dad, for trusting me and allowing me this once in a lifetime opportunity to study in Germany. I am who I am today because of it.

Mom & Dad Niemczura CO 19860001M A age 20001M A & J0001

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This entry was posted in children, college education, customs in Germany, education, family, family stories, Foreign Language Learning, Free German University Study for American students, Fulbright Teacher Exchange, German culture, German language, Germany, global citizens, languages, life lessons, Parents, schools in Germany, Teacher, University of Colorado at Boulder, vocational education in Germany, world languages and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to How Learning German Changed My Life

  1. Love your post, very personal and totally from your heart. I can very much relate to you since I learnt English in East Germany during a time, when people wondered what I ever would need it for! 🙂
    I am German and moved to the US in 2001. I can tell my different style in raising our son (who is now 11 years old). Our neighbors have a pretty short leash for their kids at the same age, whereas my husband and I trust our son and give him some freedom to just go to friends in our neighborhood and just ride his bike without supervision.
    But our biggest gift is that our son is growing up trilingual (English, French and German).

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    • Thank you so much for the kind words. They are truly appreciated. It is also so good to hear that your style of rearing your son is more German than American. I tried a bit of both because my two were with my on both Fulbright experiences: in Neresheim and in Berlin(former East). They are also fluent in the same languages: German, French, English. In Germany I tried to give them more freedom in the little village. I did not trust myself to allow them to be alone in our neighborhood in Prenzlauer Berg. Languages are a wonderful gift to give as is the gift of music. No one can take either away, and they are with you for a lifetime. It makes me happy when I hear stories such as yours. You might also enjoy reading my poetic memoir, A Past Worth Telling which covers my Massachusetts childhood, the move to Colorado, then to Central New York and my years in Germany as a student as well as a teacher.

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    • See the latest post on “Hands Across the Ocean” and learning via video conferences between US and German classrooms.
      https://drniemczura.wordpress.com

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tom says:

    I enjoyed your post and the pictures you included at the end. Interesting to hear about your turning points in life and education from University in Colorado and then going to Germany. It sounded like you were writing for possible high school students who are wondering about college and their future. I like that. I don’t know how many non-parent adult figures they have around to give good advice on it. Some do, some may not.

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    • I agree that many young people today lack non-parent adult figures in their lives. I try to make a difference with college, career and advice on life in general to the young people in my charge and any young people who ask. Thank you for the perceptive comment.

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