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 great 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 became 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 your faith in me.
Note: A newly published book (2017) takes an in-depth view of an American mother living in Germany and rearing self-reliant children. It’s an interesting read and is spot on: Achtung Baby by Sara Zaske.