The Fulbright program does an incredible job connecting peoples around the world. We had learned that I was to teach English to German pupils from grades 6-10 in a Comprehensive School in Neresheim, Germany. The school served 30 surrounding towns and villages nearby. In July our two young children, ages 3 and 6, and I flew to Germany for orientation sessions in Bonn before traveling to our assigned towns and schools for the year. My husband remained at home and was able to visit a few times during the year. Our village of about 300 people was called Schweindorf where we had an apartment above a restaurant owned by the Spielberger family who became our second family for the year and remain that to this very day. They had a huge farm, a barn with horses and lots of land to roam and play.
Previously I had studied in Heidelberg, Germany, for three years and had visited a few times. Bringing young children along and living there posed new challenges. There was one church in the village which was historically Protestant. Around the end of October, we learned about a festival to be held with services in that church. It was called Erntedankfest which was a harvest festival giving thanks for the good harvest in the fields. Our kindergarten-age daughter participated by bringing up some of the vegetables which were places on the altar. Like many other customs and holidays, this one remains forever in our hearts and minds.
When my husband brought home a box filled with local vegetables harvested in nearby fields of Upstate New York, nostalgia hit, and I was reminded of that festival in our tiny German village where people gathered together to give thanks for a good harvest and to instill respect for customs and traditions.
Our lives were forever changed by our experiences of living abroad and attending German schools. Our son attended a combined class of grades 1-2 in nearby Kösingen, the home of the hot dog king, Oscar Mayer. Children in German schools take numerous field trips during the year. These are written into the school calendar, and no work has to be made up. What they do on the field trip is considered school for the day. Our son still has his collection of leaves which were indentified and attached in his journals. We still have his cursive handwritten pages and poems all in German. We still tell one another “ich liebe Dich” or I love you at the end of conversations. For years, my children listened to me sing in German at the beginning of our day, Guten Morgen, liebe Sonne, as well as Brahm’s Lullaby at the end, Guten Abend, Gute Nacht.
Whenever we shopped in the local bakeries, butcher shops or toy stores, the children were always given free cookies and pieces of bologna or sometimes candy. They became spoiled, and we missed that when we returned home to Upstate New York the following July. Having quickly learned the German language in Germany, our two experienced reverse culture shock at home. Our daughter’s first language for all practical purposes was German, and now she had to speak English. The eye exam with our pediatrician at her well check-up posed a funny problem. The nurse showed her pictures to identify which our daughter correctly did – but in German! I was called to the exam room and informed of a “problem” but I simply translated for the nurse and resolved the issue. The ice cream cone picture identified with the German word Eis was understood as an ice cube by the nurse who then learned the German word!
We have been back in the U.S. for many moons now but still speak German whenever we can but especially our prayer before meals. Learning a foreign language is as important to us as brushing our teeth or learning to play a musical instrument. We observed how tolerant and understanding of others our two became as they lived in Schweindorf, our little home away from home near the Bavarian border. It was an exciting year for everyone.