When I think of schools in rural areas, I think of Ohio. Underfunded, old, and probably not the best education. But honestly, I think of the same things when it comes to urban or suburban schools. Walking into the Sassenberg Secondary school was like walking into a corporate HQ…only this one was for learning. My university wasn’t even this nice! Clean, open areas, windows lining every wall, full teaching kitchens, gyms with rock climbing walls, a cafeteria that looked like a casual dining restaurant, and every student equipped with a laptop or tablet to use for class.
A 45 minute drive from Bielefeld lies the provincial town of Sassenberg, and it’s exactly how you would imagine a German village to be like. The early morning drive was dark, and we wouldn’t know where we were if it not for Google maps tracking our drive. The only thing we could see were oncoming headlights through the low fog that covered the road. On the way home in the afternoon, the grey sky gave light to a foggy countryside of timbered houses, farmland, horses, and long stretches of two-lane roads dotted with castles and medieval structures.
We arrived at 7:30, and students were rolling in (literally. They have bike parking lots) and preparing for class. Our group was the main event. Schools throughout Germany take part in Project Weeks, a week during the school year where teachers take a back seat and the students get to participate in something that builds onto whatever it is they’re studying. Some project weeks are Arts focused, Engineering based, or like ours, cultural experiences.
Our main goal is to encourage English speaking, help them feel comfortable, and grow in confidence as an English-speaker. The students don’t have to go to “real” class, so they love it. We offer students a unique experience of interacting with a native English speaker (often for the first time), and learning about the customs and culture of the English-speaking world. Most of what they know about America they learn through music, Marvel, and Netflix.
Here are a few things about America that blew their mind:
- We have to pay for healthcare.
- Most places don’t have train systems or good public transportation.
- We have school shootings.
- Marijuana is legal (in some states).
The most common questions I got were:
- Do you own a gun?
- Do you smoke weed?
- What do you think of Trump?
- Have you been to Los Angeles or New York?
- Do you know any famous people?
But my favorite part of all was that the students didn’t know I spoke German.
“Do you speak German?” they would ask me.
“This is an English class. No, I don’t.” They would smile slyly and start talking about something rude, or off topic or you know, high school. And I would smile back and then reply to them in English, fully knowing what they’re talking about.
“Hey, I don’t think it’s a good idea to be talking about what party you’re going to this weekend. If you want to talk about it, talk about it in English.”
“WOOOAAAAAHHHH!!!! YOU DO SPEAK GERMAN!!!”
While the school system and the schools may be different, there’s one thing that’s always the same: high schoolers. They are just like students in the States and all I can say is, boy am I glad I am not in high school anymore. The number of times I was asked about drugs or beer or parties…🤦♀️