43 days, 7 countries, 10 cities, and countless memories later...my time in Europe has come to an end. For those of you who don't know, I decided to extend my IPDS Germany trip by 4 weeks and travel Europe with friends and family. After visiting Berlin, Stuttgart, and Munich, I traveled in Prague-Czech Republic, Vienna-Austria, Budapest-Hungary, Paris-France, Colmar-France, Lucerne-Switzerland, and Barcelona-Spain. My time abroad was filled with the most incredible experiences, food, laughter, and life. I am so thankful for my time abroad, but boy am I happy to be back in Buffalo.
After having several weeks to reflect on my time in Germany, I was able to truly decipher what I felt benefited me the most. The one aspect of this experience that I talk about the most when people ask me how my trip was is my host family. My time with my host family was amazing, and I have formed relationships that I will have for the rest of my life. I am so thankful for the IPDS Germany program for giving me that opportunity. I also have learned so much from being in the classroom in Germany, and in my evaluation I talked quite a lot about how much this experience impacted me. It taught me so much as a future educator and as a person. I have been a teacher candidate in several schools and I have witnessed ELL Students and have seen their struggle but never really understood it. For the first time in my life, I was the person in the classroom who was disoriented by the different language. I was the one with the pounding headache trying to decode every single word that they were saying. I was the one who was frustrated for not being able to understand what they were saying. Finally. I understand what it is like to be a student in a classroom who struggles to understand what the teacher and their peers are saying. I now know what it is like, and understand why they have to put their head down in the middle of a lesson and need to escape. It is because of this experience that I believe I am more capable of working with ELL students. I believe I could create a nurturing, fulfilling environment for them where they won't feel frustrated. This was by far my biggest takeaway from the entire experience, and it is a lesson that I will never forget.
Of all the excursions and cultural experiences, it is the classroom that prevails. I wish I had more time with those students, and more time to learn from Tanja's incredible classroom management techniques. I filled an entire journal in my five days in her classroom. Her techniques and ability to run a classroom are inspiring to say the least. She makes me want to be a better teacher, and makes me excited to have my own classroom rather than daunted by the task. I could go on forever about this experience, and honestly, I'd like to. But to keep it short and sweet, I am so thankful for this experience and everything that it taught me. I will forever encourage others to partake in an experience like this, because it truly is life changing. You do not understand the impact and benefits that come from a study abroad program until you participate in one. The relationships, memories, and lessons that I have made throughout this experience are ones that will stick with me for life. I am so excited to share about my experience, and am thankful that I had this opportunity. Thank you to all who have supported me, read my blogs, and encouraged me to participate in this program. I will always be grateful! Vielen Danke!
My last days in Germany were well spent to say the least. I learned to make every second count, and gained a better understanding of how precious time is. From having dinner in a castle, to making my own chocolate bar at Ritter Sport Chocolate Museum with my host family, I left Germany feeling extremely fulfilled. My last day in the classroom was more emotional than I expected it would be. Tanja thought it would be best to not tell the students that it was our last day with them, so at the end of the school day, we received our usual hugs from the students and "see you tomorrow", however that wouldn't be the case. When Tanja came home from school the next day, she told us that the students were in tears because they were so upset that they didn't get to say goodbye. The bonds that we made with these students over such a short period of time were amazing. Of everything that we did, I truly think that the most beneficial part of this opportunity was being able to be in the classroom with Tanja. I learned so much about the German education system, as well as so many classroom management techniques that I could bring into my future classroom. I gained such a strong appreciation for teacher-student relationships, and the importance of creating a nurturing learning environment.
On the last day with my host family we went to the Ritter Sport Chocolate Museum. We had to pretend to be under 17 because that is the age limit for creating your own chocolate. In a room surrounded by six year old children at a birthday party, I felt a little ridiculous, but spending that hour with my host brother making our own chocolate bars, it was so much fun. Almost everyone in attendance spoke German with the exception of me and a few others, so it was very challenging to listen to all of the history in directions in another language. However, I do feel that at the end of my two weeks in Germany, my ability to understand German increased immensely and I was really impressed with myself. I felt proud that I was able to understand the majority of what they were talking about, and no longer got a headache from trying so hard to process it all. Those last few hours with my host family were so incredibly special. On our last night, I bought the fixings for tacos--ground beef, taco shells, onions, tomatoes, cheese, avocado, black beans, corn, etc. and made my host family a true Sheridan-Style taco night! They had so much fun with it, and we all enjoyed it so much. It was nice to bring a little piece of home to Germany, and I was so glad that they enjoyed it. They told me that they had never made tacos at home before, so I was happy to introduce them to it!
We spent our last evening around the dinner table, sharing tears and a lot of laughs too. We talked about how we would come back and how they would come visit us too. We took pictures out on the balcony and laughed at our dysfunction. It was such an amazing experience. Hugging my host family goodbye was extremely emotional. Mostly because it is not certain when we will see each other again. The love that I have for my family is uncanny, and I never knew it was possible to fall in love so fast. I am so thankful for the opportunity and everything that I learned along the way, even if it isn't something related to the classroom, I learned about love and life too.
I will hold these memories near and dear to my heart forever. Thanks for the memories Germany, until next time!
Teachers have to be quick on their feet, and always have a million back-up plans. This fact is no different here in Germany. Laci and I planned a lesson prior to coming to Germany that we thought would be great for a first grade class. We decided to teach the students about the American flag; what the colors mean, what the stars and stripes represent, and how important the flag is to us in our country. We thought that it would be interesting for the students to learn about the meanings, and to help them understand that in our country we pledge allegiance to the flag, and celebrate our flag. This is a huge difference between America and Germany, and for very important reasons. We wanted to help explain to the students that in our country our flag is a huge representation of our celebration of freedom, and pride for our homeland. We decided to do some research and get facts on the American flag that were in simple language so they could understand. We included facts about Betsy Ross, the designer of our first flag, as well as the symbolism of the colors red, white, and blue, and what the stars and stripes mean. We thought this would be enough information to create a lesson for the students, and it would be simple enough for them to comprehend. We also included a coloring activity where they would be able to color in their own American flag. It all sounds great, right? Wrong. After our first 10 minutes in Tanja's classroom, we realized that this lesson would be impossible to teach. The students knew hardly any English and the lesson was far too complex.
So, after consulting with Tanja, we decided to go in another direction. Tanja helped us to teach a lesson on pets during their English class. We had photos of six pets: elephant, bird, cat, dog, rabbit, and hamster. We began by putting the photos up on the board and went through each one telling them the English name for that pet. Then, we had the students repeat the name after us so that they could practice saying the word. They struggled greatly with the word "bird", but after much practice, they improved! Next, we would point to one of the animals and ask a student to raise their hand to tell us what it is. The students would use complete sentences to say "This is a ____" and they did so well! The students were very comfortable with the dog and cat, but were more hesitant to answer when we were pointing to the bird or elephant. After doing this for several minutes, we moved on to some games. The game that was the most popular was the "what is missing?" game. For this, we lined all of the photos of the animals up on the board. One student would come to the front of the room and in English would say "close your eyes" and all other students would put their head down and close their eyes. Next, the student at the front would take down one of the pictures of an animal. When he was finished, he would say "what is missing?" and the other classmates would have to see which animal was no longer on the board. Once again, we had the students practice speaking in full sentences. They would respond "The ____ is missing". If they were correct they would come to the front of the room and they would have a turn next. They loved this game, and they did so well with it! We did have to help quite a bit when they responded to make sure that they were using full sentences. Many of them wanted to just say the name of the animal, but we had to help them remember to use the full phrase.
We played several more games that Tanja helped us to arrange, and overall it was a very successful lesson! I feel that the students really understood and benefited a lot from this lesson.
Despite the challenges that we were presented with, Tanja still was interested in us teaching a lesson on the American flag with her class. We decided that we could do is still as long as she helped to translate. Emily had joined our class and so now we had three teachers doing the lesson together. This was a challenge in itself because if there are too many people trying to lead a lesson, the students can get easily confused. However to my surprise, we did not have this issue at all. The students were so excited to learn about America. Tanja plays a song every time that the students come to circle, and she calls one row at a time. We turned on the song and the students quietly came over to circle. Once everyone was settled, we began our lesson. We told them what we were going to talk about, and Emily had written the 50 states on the chalkboard, so the students were already excited and interested to see what we would be doing. When we sat in circle, we did the original plan. We began telling the students about our flag. Laci printed out pictures of all of our flags that we've ever had! We were able to show the students the differences between the flags, and without even speaking, almost all of the students noticed that there were more stars on the more recent flags. Many of them also already understood that stars equal states. I was so impressed by their prior knowledge of our flag, and how well they were able to piece information together. We used a globe to show the students where America is located, and how far away we are from Germany. We told them some facts about our flag, and Tanja graciously translated for us. The students seemed to grasp the concept quite well, however when we talked about our country, states, colonies, etc. we seemed to lose the students a little bit. Regardless, that is a very hard concept even for English speakers to grasp. After circle time, the students went back to their desks and we handed out the coloring sheets for them and explained how to color it. Next, we handed out American flag pencils and small American flags for all of the students. I cannot even begin to express how excited they were to receive those materials. All of them found creative ways to display their flag (some of them used two pencils and stuck the flag between them so it would stand up on their desks). It made me so happy to see the students so excited about our country. All of them, when finished coloring, made sure to come over to us and show us their flag. I am so happy that we had Tanja to help us translate, because the lesson was so successful! It was inspiring to see the students so eager to learn about other countries and traditions.
To my surprise, the German classroom is quite similar to the classrooms that I have experienced in the United States. When I walked into Tanja's classroom, I was shocked at how large the classroom was! Tanja has just over twenty students in her first grade class, however the room is so large that it really doesn't seem like there are that many children. For my research, I decided to compare classroom management: rules and procedures in the United States versus Germany. I have heard that German schools often don't utilize a classroom management plan like teachers do in the States. However, I found this to be completely untrue. Tanja's classroom is set up very strategically and the classroom management that she has in place has inspired me. On the first day in her classroom, I sat down in the back and waited for the students to come barging in, like they would in the States. On the contrary, Tanja left the room and went upstairs. She brought the students down, and one-by-one they entered the room, shaking her hand on the way in as she greeted them with a warm smile and a "Guten Morgen". The students then went to sit down in their seats and waited quietly for Tanja to begin.
Every day, Tanja begins the day with clapping call and response. She does several sets of clapping, and the students repeat it, ending with one solid clap and saying "Guten morgen Frau Heinz, good morning Jenessa and Laci" in unison. After this, the students are silent until Tanja directs them to the next step which is going over the schedule. Next is calendar which is entirely led by the students. Tanja has two students go over to the calendar and explain to their classmates what the day, month, and year are. The two students leading calendar call on their classmates to answer various questions. Tanja is extremely patient, and allows the students all the time that they need to figure it out for themselves, and work independently. She only interjects if they have a question or a dispute.
During just the first day of observation, I was in awe at the management techniques that Tanja used. I wrote three pages worth of notes while observing her! One of the techniques that I loved so much was on the front board, she has all of her students' names on magnets. Then, she has several areas where the students' names can be moved throughout the day. The categories include: Extraordinary, Great Work, Ready to Learn, Yellow Card, and Red Card. All of the students' names begin next to the "ready to learn" category at the start of the day. If a student does something really great and Tanja wants to give it recognition, she will move it to the "great job" or "extraordinary" category. If the student displays an inappropriate behavior after already receiving a verbal warning, their name will be moved to the "yellow card", and if the behavior continues, eventually they may be moved to the "red card". Soccer is the sport that most students show interest in in Germany, so Tanja said they all understand very clearly that the yellow card is the warning before they are thrown out of the game entirely, therefore it translates really well into the classroom. This re-emphasized the importance of making your classroom relatable for the students so that they can grasp the concepts better. Whether that refers to making the lessons more relatable or the classroom rules, it is so important to do this to gain the students' interest. I find this technique incredibly effective. Tanja is sure to explain to the students exactly why someone's name is being moved, and she has it visible so that when she does move a name, the entire class can see it.
Another technique that I would love to use in my future classroom has to do with the students' having the ability to communicate their emotions in a mature and thoughtful way. Also on the front board, Tanja has three paper fish. Each fish has an emotion: happy, sad, and upset. Next to each fish is a magnet with the corresponding emotion. When a student is feeling frustrated with someone, happy about something they or a peer did, or sad about something, they have the option to share it with the class during circle time. Tanja asks the students if any of them want to share anything. For example, one student named Joe* shared the other day that he was really upset because one of his peers wasn't sitting on the right color dot on the ground. He explained that it aggravated him, and he felt upset. Joe shared this with his whole class, so they all could understand how he was feeling. Tanja offered him some advice and guidance, and then once it was finished being discussed, Joe went up to the board and moved the magnet onto the fish who showed an upset emotion. I think this strategy is wonderful because it allows the students and teachers to have very open communication, it teaches problem solving, and it teaches students that it is okay to have emotions and to express those emotions through communicating with one another. I love everything about this strategy and it is definitely one that I will take with me into my classroom.
I could talk about Tanja's classroom for hours, and how wonderful all of her classroom management techniques are, but these are just two that I found so intriguing and beneficial to me as a future educator.
One thing that is so different about the schools in Germany is the way their day is set up. Tanja goes in in the morning for her class, but some days will leave by 10:30 AM and will be finished for the day. Some days, she goes back in the afternoon for another class. Regardless, the schedule is very different from anything I've ever seen in the States, and I've found it so interesting. On my first day with Tanja, I observed in the classroom from 8 AM to around 9:30, then the students had a half an hour break. For this, we went outside where students are free to do as they wish. Many of them had a snack and socialized, and all of the grades are mixed during this time. I observed the first grade students playing with older students which I really enjoyed seeing. During this time, I saw two older boys, maybe in fourth or fifth grade, begin rough-housing. As this was my first day, none of the students knew me, and I don't speak German, I sat back for a moment. I kept a close eye on them, until I saw the playful shoving turn to true anger. I noticed that there were no faculty around to stop it, and one of the boys was ready to swing at the other, so I stepped in and broke it up. I separated the boys and brought one boy over to Tanja and explained the situation. I was surprised at how powerful just walking over to the boys was and not needing to use any verbal language.
To say the least, it was an amazing experience, and I cannot begin to express how much I've learned from Tanja's classroom. My research is proving to be very interesting, and nothing like what I was imagining it would be. Tomorrow is my last day in the classroom already, and I am so sad to be saying goodbye to the students. It is a classroom that I will always remember, and will absolutely utilize Tanja's classroom management techniques in my future classroom.
People always say "family is everything" and I have always believed in that. However, this experience has truly allowed me to gain a full understanding of that phrase. I am blessed to have such an incredible host family here in Germany, and I would like to share with you all how incredible they are. As mentioned in my previous blog, I live with Tanja and her husband Bernd and their four children. Coming to a new continent that has entirely different customs and traditions has been far from easy. I desperately miss my family, friends, pets, home, and the familiarity of Buffalo NY. However, I have never felt so incredibly welcomed and comfortable in someone else's home. Tanja and her family have opened their door, and their hearts to me fully. Immediately I was greeted with smiles and hugs at the airport. Franzie waving an American flag, and Moritz making my bed for me and giving up his own room so that I could be comfortable and have some privacy.
At first, I was nervous that it may be awkward with the family, and that conversation may lack. I was nervous that we may not get along or that the language barrier would be too difficult to handle. I was nervous that I would miss being with my classmates, and that I would long for the times that we would be able to spend as a group. All of these instincts were completely inaccurate. Instead, I find myself longing for time that I am able to spend at home with my host family. I keep thinking about how little time I have left with them, and how difficult it is going to be to leave them in one week. The bonds that I have formed with the children and with Tanja are some of the most incredible bonds that I have ever formed with anyone. This family truly took me in as one of their own, and has done everything they can to make me feel as comfortable and as at home as possible. I think of them as family now, and I am so excited about the relationships that I have formed with them already. I know that these are relationships that I will maintain for the rest of my life.
My first evening with the family, I sat with Franzie at the kitchen table in silence. She is only five, and does not know one word of English, and I know not one word of German. We sat there in silence, smiling at each other but also feeling slightly awkward. Finally, I began asking her about some vocabulary. The walls are plastered with vocabulary translations from German to English for the children to study. I began by looking at the English words and acting them out, asking Franzie to translate it into German for me, so I could begin to practice the language. Soon her and I were laughing hysterically as we played charades, and looked ridiculous doing so. She taught me colors, actions, and objects. It was a lot to take in, but it was a way for us to communicate and enjoy each other's company. And if you're wondering about the title of this blog: Wassamelone, it is the first word that I could actually pronounce properly and Franzie thought it was absolutely hilarious when I'd say it. It is now my favorite word.
Moritz, the oldest child knows quite a bit of English, and we are able to communicate quite well! One night I decided to download an app to my phone that allowed me to speak into it in English, and it would translate it into German for me so that I could communicate better with the family. (It also allowed me to translate German to English so I could finally understand what they were talking about at dinner). I had no idea how much fun the family and I would have with this app until we were sitting at the dinner table. I discretely turned on the app to try and translate the conversation to English. My phone started blurting out the English translation and everyone was confused. I couldn't help but laugh and explain what I was trying to do. For the rest of dinner, the kids and I played around saying different phrases in German and English and translating them with one another. We laughed all night long.
My time with this family the past week has been incredible. The children always come to my room and say good morning and good night. They greet me with smiles and hugs at the end of the day, and always make me feel at home. Tanja has been so supportive and an incredible asset both in the classroom and at home. From picking me up from the train station late at night, to always making sure I have food in the house that I like to eat, and being like a mother to me, I am so incredibly thankful to have her in my life. My new family is everything to me, and I am thankful for every moment I get to spend with them.
One week into this adventure, and it still has yet to sink in that I am actually in Germany. I do not understand why I am unable to comprehend that I am in Germany, exploring Berlin with 8 amazing girls, but at the end of the day it all feels so surreal. I am so blessed to be able to have this experience, and I find myself constantly reminding myself of that each and every day. While this has been an absolutely astonishing experience thus far, there are still many obstacles that I find myself facing each day. The main obstacle, that comes as no surprise, is the language barrier. This is my first time in my life where I am in a place where English is not the predominant language. That being said, I knew coming into this that not everyone would speak English here and I was sure that I would struggle to communicate often. However, I never knew how difficult it could be to try and use charades and visuals to communicate with someone.
As a future educator, this taught me how difficult it can be for students who come from families who do not speak English as their first language. Mentally and emotionally it is exhausting to try and decode every word to find some meaning that you understand. It allowed me to put myself in the students' shoes for once, and understand that from their perspective, being in a classroom with a teacher and students who all speak English (and speak it very fast), it can be a whirlwind of struggles and emotions. It can seem impossible to keep up, and to understand the context of the conversation, and overall lead to a very discouraged student.
Having to find our way on the trains, read through a menu written in all German, and communicate with many people who speak very little to no English, it has been an adventure to say the least, and a huge learning opportunity.
After meeting Tanja, my host, and her family I fell absolutely in love. They are all so welcoming and happy to have me in their home. They made my transition so easy and I am so grateful for that. Being 5,000 miles away from my family is something that is very difficult to cope with. So, I am lucky to have a family here that allows me to feel so comfortable. Tanja and her husband have four children: Moritz (13), Tobi (11), Daniel (9), and Franzie (5). Franzie and I have really bonded however she speaks absolutely no English. Her and I have a special bond though, and we have found a way to communicate with one another through only giggles and visuals. It has been such an eye-opening experience to sit at the dinner table, surrounded by 6 people who all are speaking German, trying to keep up with what they may be talking about. I always ask "How do you say...?" and try to build my vocabulary, and we all laugh at my poor pronunciation of whatever word or phrase I am trying to say. However I do feel that I've learned a lot, and I am helping them with their English too! Moritz's English is truly impressive, and his teacher is allowing me to join them in his English class during my stay to come in and talk to his classmates, and possibly teach them some English! Him and I can communicate quite well, and it is fun to learn about their interests and answer all their questions about America. It truly feels like a family, and I am so happy to be here with them. We are already planning their trip to America..... Now who will be saying "How do you say...?"
Well in three days we will be leaving for an experience of a lifetime. As the months turned to weeks and weeks to days, I am overcome with emotions. I am beyond excited to meet my lovely host family that consists of Tanja and her husband and their four children. I already know that my time in Germany is going to be some that I will carry with my for the rest of my life. Packing my suitcase and preparing for this trip knowing that I am about to embark on a six week adventure, it feels absolutely surreal. I am completely unable to comprehend that this is real, and that I am actually this fortunate to participate in this program. I am so thankful that Buffalo State College offers such an incredible program and will support study abroad forever. I already have experienced and learned so much, and we haven’t even arrived yet. My host and I have been in communication and she has told me a little about the school and her students. They are so excited to learn about America, so Laci and I have prepared to do a lesson on the American Flag. We will discuss with our students what the colors and style of our flag represent. We will also allow them to color their own American flag. I am also hoping to bring some of my favorite children’s literature abroad so that I can read and share that with them. I am so excited to get the opportunity to spend time in the classroom with these students who are so eager to learn about America, and I cannot wait to answer their questions and share some of my favorite literature with them. This has already been a wonderful experience and I look forward for what is yet to come!
When I was presented with the opportunity to study abroad in Stuttgart, Germany it was an opportunity that I couldn't let pass me by. My late grandfather who I was extremely close to was from Stuttgart and it is rumored that his family's farm is still active there. My grandfather was always so passionate when talking about his German customs, and was so proud to be from Stuttgart. When I found out that this opportunity was located in Stuttgart, I knew it was meant to be, and that it was something I needed to do for myself and for my grandfather.
The benefits of studying abroad are endless, but I am most excited to learn more about German customs and traditions. I have never been abroad, so I have so much to learn. I look forward to submerging myself into the culture, and taking on new traditions and learning more about what it is that my Papa loved so much.
I also look forward greatly to bettering myself as a future educator. I look forward to being able to compare and contrast the school system in Germany to what I have experienced here in New York, and potentially bringing back ideas and strategies to apply in my own classroom.
I hope to learn more about myself through this process, and discover some of my strengths and weaknesses. I believe that this opportunity will challenge me in a multitude of ways; academically as well as emotionally and I am excited to explore those challenges.
While abroad, I will be looking into classroom management in the German classroom. I will specifically be looking at how rules and procedures are implemented in the classroom, and how that implementation has an affect on the students.
Through these six weeks, I look forward to sharing my experiences, challenges, and findings with you.
About the Author
I am a third year Early Childhood Education major at Buffalo State College. I am hoping to attend Rochester Institute of Technology for my masters program to study American Sign Language. I am looking forward to my experience abroad to learn more about my field, German culture, and myself as a person and future educator.