Language + Study Abroad = Amazing
By Angela Schneider | Published: November 14, 2017
Spending your days telling tweens about people who eat French fries with mayonnaise instead of ketchup is pretty cool. I love getting kids excited about the big wide world. I’ve taught German to middle and high school for over a decade and worked as a staff member at Waldsee, the Concordia German Language Village, for just as long. Why is teaching kids another language important? Well, it’s good for the brain, for business, for getting into college, etc. But for me, helping kids learn curiosity about others and giving them the tools to connect with people is an amazing purpose.
The first time I traveled abroad as a student with my high school German club, we spent our time on a bus, being chauffeured around with little opportunity to communicate. None of our chaperones spoke German. We saw many wonderful things, but the German language and culture were still just as abstract for me as they had been in a classroom. Travel can be fun, scenic and educational, but it is much more powerful and transformative when combined with language study.
When I led Concordia’s high school abroad program to Germany last summer (after two weeks in residence at the Village), we created a rich experience that allowed participants to engage with the culture and live the language. Students navigated the subway in Berlin, shopped for necessities and interviewed their host families about music, school and politics. We spent four weeks playing, creating, presenting, eating and bonding in the target language, both at Waldsee and in Germany. But, what is it about language learning combined with study abroad that is so powerful?
Even the best language students will be challenged, be overwhelmed, and feel a huge sense of accomplishment while abroad; in school, it’s easy to lose sight of the communication goal and define your success by a grade. The first time you have to really order food or buy a stamp is still super intimidating! Not every native speaker is willing or able to accommodate a developing accent or help you with that word on the tip of your tongue. It’s a huge deal for a student to walk away from an interaction with a stranger that was A. real life and B. successful. I love being there for those moments and hearing from my students the ecstatic, “They understood me!!!”
Maybe what you considered normal at home . . . isn’t? Is it a big deal to turn off the shower while you’re soaping up? What is life like without Mountain Dew? You can have hot chocolate for breakfast? Can you treat a cold with a scarf and tea? How much does your driver’s license cost? How old is that house?
The language and culture become real: You can learn Klingon, but that doesn’t make it real. Until you hear people all around you using the language and actually see someone doing that super cliché thing (socks + sandals), it’s just a fantasy world. You never think about the fact that parents use baby talk in every language. That people engage in heated debate about the use of vocabulary that you’ve been studying. That there is ever-evolving slang that your teacher cannot possibly keep current on. Most satisfying, is finally comprehending that word or phrase that doesn’t exist in your native language.
When you live in a community, build relationships with friends and a host family, and participate in daily life, you experience “language and culture” from the inside. You are rewarded with connections that can last a lifetime. As a teenager, you see your peers struggling with the same growing pains. You see parents worry for their children’s future. You see pride and generosity and love. Reinforcing the understanding that under the layers of culture, we share a common humanity. Experiencing the bond between us all that transcends nationality, that can truly change the world.
About the Author
Angela Schneider has taught German at both high school and middle school levels and has a 10-year history at Concordia Language Villages. She earned her teaching degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She has professional experience in Europe as a camp counselor, a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Austria, and as a leader for high school trips throughout Germany. In the summer of 2017, she lead the inaugural Credit Abroad program to Germany, a partnership between Concordia Language Villages and Xperitas, a not-for-profit exchange organization based in Minnesota.comments powered by Disqus