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"You Can Do It!" Villager Insights on Finding One's Courage at Waldsee, the German Language Village

By Heidi Hamilton | Published: August 29, 2018

Summer 2018 at Concordia Language Villages has been filled with energizing conversations about our mission to inspire courageous global citizens.

Brigitte and Rike pose with a map of Germany
Brigitte and Rike, two high school students in
the Waldsee college credit program. 

Before our summer sessions ended, I had a chance to sit down with Brigitte (a 16-year-old first-time villager from California) and Rike (a 17-year-old fourth-time villager from Pennsylvania), two high school students who were enjoying the final hours of their four-week college-level course on Modern Germany at Waldsee, the German Language Village. Brigitte and Rike reflected on what they had learned about Germany’s history and political systems from their teachers Berndt and Victor, university professors of history and German. Our talk focused first on the everyday acts of courage the people of Berlin displayed between 1961 and 1989, the years when their city was divided by the Berlin Wall. We then turned to a discussion of courage as it relates to the Villages’ mission.

What resulted was a lively and thoughtful conversation. Here’s some of what Brigitte and Rike had to share:

Courage to speak in another language (Brigitte): “It’s easy in a classroom to write stuff down and do grammar exercises but it really takes a lot of courage to push yourself to speak in a different language. Karl [theWaldsee Dean] talks about it as a mental game with yourself. It’s embarrassing sometimes when you mess up. But having that courage that you have to learn helps you later on in life too—not just in Waldsee.

I see interactions between young kids and older kids and the younger kids are the ones who are saying ‘Nur deutsch! Wir sollen deutsch sprechen!’ (‘Only German!  We should be speaking only German!’) I think that’s so cool because at that young age villagers can learn ‘This is going to benefit me. This is what I want’ and so it’s inspiring.”

Credit villagers in a grammar lesson with their teacher
The Villages is an environment where speaking without fear
of making mistakes fosters courage to keep advancing
one’s language learning.

Courage to speak with native speakers of the language you’re studying (Rike): “I was always afraid of native German speakers because they can always tell when you’re not a native speaker. Before I came toWaldsee, I couldn’t get up the courage to speak with one of my neighbors who came from Germany because I was so nervous that I would mess up. But when I first came toWaldsee four years ago, I got to speak to the Betreuer (counselors) who are all super nice and don’t yell at you when you make mistakes (which I thought would happen but didn’t). Later I was able to talk in German with my neighbor and have discussions.”

Courage to live away from home (Brigitte): “I’m going to be doing high school junior year abroad in China and I now feel reassured that I can survive on my own. I’m not going to have my parents there and yet I feel very independent. Waldsee just gives you the confidence that you need. It’s like ‘You can do it! Yeah!'’’

Courage to talk to people – courage to make new friends (Rike): “When I started coming to Waldsee when I was younger, I remember that I was really socially anxious in addition to not being able to speak German in any practical, useful, day-to-day way. I had to get up the courage to talk to people—to make friends. That’s something I’m definitely going to use for the rest of my life—because that’s a skill that’s forever.”

Courage to take a college course as a high school student (Brigitte): “I definitely was very worried because knowing that you’re going to take a college course can be stressful. But on the first day of our program, Berndt and Viktor sat down and showed they’re very easy people to talk to. 

Early in the program when I was given a paper to read, I thought ‘Oh gosh, I can’t do this.’ But then we always had that back up. Like Berndt would come over ‘Are you struggling?’ I’m like ‘Yeah, I can’t do this’ and we would just read through the whole entire thing and understand why. It was very supportive and reassuring.

Waldsee’s a very friendly environment and we learned so much. It’s not the kind of learning where you forget in two days, but it’s learning that we can continue to use in everyday life.”

Turtle River Lake at sunset

Later that evening, as I gazed out across the deep blue starlit waters of Turtle River Lake toward the lights and sounds from our neighboring Language Villages, it was easy to imagine the feelings and acts of courage that Brigitte and Rike had shared with me earlier that day rippling out across the thousands of participants with whom we have lived our languages this summer. 

It is our hope that these villagers and staff have returned home transformed in some meaningful ways by their summer experiences with us, and that they are inspired to act courageously as global citizens in ways large and small.

About the Author

A picture of the author, Heidi Hamilton

Heidi E. Hamilton is Professor in the Department of Linguistics, Georgetown University, where her research interests focus on issues of language and Alzheimer's disease, medical communication and language learning.  Her books include Conversations with an Alzheimer's Patient; Handbook of Discourse Analysis (with Schiffrin and Tannen); Linguistics, Language, and the Professions (with Alatis and Tan); Handbook of Language and Health Communication (with Chou); and Doing Foreign Language: Bringing Concordia Language Villages into Language Classrooms (with Crane and Bartoshesky). The Language Villages have been a central part of her life for more than 40 years—from participation in her first two-week program at Waldsee in 1971 to her current leadership position as a Village Mentor, a term used to denote an expert in language and cultural immersion.

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