by Erin Huggins '10
I never thought I’d be one of those girls who’d fall in love in college. But like many alumni, I, too, met the love of my life at WOU. Only, Western didn’t introduce me to a person, but a country: “Hallo, Deutschland.”
Strange to think that a year ago September, I was returning from my first trip to Germany—and that, although I’d been part of meetings hinting at the possibility of a joint WOU-PH Ludwigsburg service learning trip during summer 2010, it hadn’t yet become reality. I was also just adding the finishing touches to my Fulbright application. Like the first time, I sent those documents out with hopes and prayers, preparing, yet again, to play the waiting game, wondering if I would make it back across the Atlantic this time around.
By early October, I had another date with Deutschland. I knew I’d be in Germany for the month of July—participating in WOU’s inaugural international service learning project in Münsingen and volunteering at a News Release basketball camp with 80 German kids outside of Magdeburg. However, determining whether I’d take the next step, spending September through June teaching English somewhere in Germany, remained to be seen. Until February, that is, when I finally opened a large manila envelope containing the announcement of my Fulbright grant. It was official! Following suit, though, April arrived before I learned I’d be traveling to Wernigerode, Sachsen-Anhalt to teach at the MUSIC Landesgymnasium for nine months.
Before I left for Germany last year, I mentioned that my internship through German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) with the Berlin newspaper BZ in Berlin summer 2009 was “only the beginning.” Blind statement of faith? Maybe. After all, I’d only seen pictures and talked to acquaintances. But, thankfully, my summer fling with Germany started a rather serious relationship. Of course, I have to thank WOU for setting us up. My “matchmaker,” so to speak. Meeting German-exchange-students-turned-best-friends in American Lit sparked a renewed interest in the German language and culture. Being involved in Stammtisch German club meetings created the chance for me to hear about the DAAD journalism internship program, completion of which, in turn, qualified me to apply for the service learning and Fulbright opportunities.
Back from two trips across the Atlantic and gearing up to “move in” to Wernigerode on September 1, I’m starting to think about my experiences abroad, especially my most recent trip—the pilot service learning co-op in Baden-Württemberg. Honestly, traveling to another country without a solid itinerary—and without being able to control your itinerary—has its ups and downs. Jet lag, confusion, and lots of that waiting time (well, nobody’s perfect!) were perhaps some of the downs of this particular trip. The ups, however, more than made up for it.
Working alongside the German team helped us integrate almost seamlessly into the culture. Although our group of six WOU students had been collaborating, mostly via e-mail and Skype, with our German partners on researching immigration in Oregon and Germany or over six months leading up to our July trip, we left PDX more than a little unclear about what exactly the next two and a half weeks would hold. Meeting up with our partners in Stuttgart, we exchanged hugs—personally, I was overjoyed to see my friend Ann-Marie, who’d studied at WOU during 2008-09, for the first time in almost a year—and, as one of my team members said, “By the time we got to the airport, it felt like we were all long-lost friends,” a feeling which continued throughout the duration of the trip. Walking to and from our various activities, I often bounced from one conversation in English to another one in German. We all had adequate time to practice speaking in the “other” language.
Our lodging was a bit eccentric: a farm where the farmer is a pioneer in bio (German prefix for “green/organic”) products, a church-sponsored vacation village (think summer camp cabins), and dorms rooms at the PH in a building that had classes going on (pretty sure I ran into a professor with my pajamas on). Even though we actually didn’t spend much time in any of these places because our days were spent sun-up to sun-down with kids from the Schiller School in Münsingen, the night laughter around orange campfire flames, swathed in swirling smoke that lingered on our clothes, helped our two teams bond during the early days of the trip.
Back to Schiller School, though. Heading into the trip, we knew we’d be presenting our research to, well, somebody. Turns out, the entire focus of our trip was the “c” class of eighth-graders. Our full activity list? Well, we certainly enjoyed multiple adventures: rock-climbing, camping, crawling through caves, canoeing, playing games, painting fences, cleaning ponds, building grills, talking. In the end, we became a strange mixture of camp-counselors, peer advisors, leadership trainers, English teachers, crazy Americans…oh, and I also managed to throw “journalist” into that list of titles.
(Photo) "Carolee Bick helping to carve a bench from the log we retrived from the bio-pond at Schiller School."
Flexibility, though, like patience, is important when you’re getting to know somebody—or someplace. And as I continue to watch my story, unwinding like the long black reels of old-time movie tape, I’m amazed at the twists in the plot I missed back then. For instance, I enrolled in my senior year electives at WOU before I had confirmation of my Fulbright position, but “Teaching Writing” and “Strategies for Teaching English as a Second Language” gave me invaluable information for my upcoming position. Working at the basketball camp required me to talk to kids—auf Deutsch—for a week, learning how to work through the holes in my L2 lexicon (HOW do you say “Tie your shoelaces!”?), practice that I’m sure will come in handy in a classroom.
All that to say, I’m in love—totally and completely head over heels for a country 5,000 miles away. Good thing I’m going back soon.