By Iris Bork-Goldfield, Adj. Professor of German Studies, Chair
In March 2020, students were told to return from their study abroad programs, and we faculty were asked not to leave the U.S. Four of our students had just arrived at our Smith program in Hamburg, Germany, when they received that unwelcome message to pack again and return home. In the summer, I learned that our exchange student from Freiburg would not be coming to Wesleyan because of COVID. This meant that I would be without a teaching assistant from Germany in 2020/21. I contacted Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, my Alma Mater. I had graduated from LMU in German as a Foreign Language (Deutsch als Fremdsprache= DaF) and knew that students were required to do a teaching internship as part of their studies. I had done mine in China, but why not offer an online internship in the U.S., and why not at Wesleyan? I contacted the internship coordinator at the DaF Institut in Munich and sent her a description of our teaching internship, asking if she would announce it to their students.
Already a week later, I had the first response, followed quickly by several others. I interviewed several candidates via Zoom, explaining that they would be responsible for individual Oral Practice sessions (OPS) of 10-15 minutes each, with my Beginning German students. I kept the sessions short as no funding was available. The TAs were only to speak German and reinforce what my students had learned in my classes the week before. The three German tutors and I met once per week, usually on Fridays, to discuss what I had taught and share ideas about how to best practice the material, mainly vocabulary, grammar, and German culture. Later we also discussed what worked and what didn’t. One Wesleyan student, a native German speaker, who is currently attending classes from her hometown, Vienna, also joined us as a TA. She enrolled in a tutorial with me and will receive .5 credit for her work this semester. The students from Munich received an evaluation and an internship certificate from me which Munich University accepts as part of their studies. In early September 2020, my students had to sign up for an OPS and met with their German TA once a week, always at the same time.
My students’ evaluations showed how much they enjoyed these meetings with a student from Germany/Austria. Their only regret was that the sessions were so short. All four TAs agreed to continue working with my students and me this semester, and we agreed that they would meet with two students at a time and extend their sessions to 20-30 minutes each.
Another project bridging the “ocean” is the Tandem project, initiated by the Baden-Württemberg (BW) exchange program, which is administered by the University of Connecticut. They invite students from participating U.S. universities to sign up for a tandem partner from one of the universities in Baden-Württemberg. German students who study English at Heidelberg, Tübingen, Freiburg, Stuttgart, and Konstanz now meet with American students who study German at the intermediate or advanced level in Connecticut. They are meeting 11 times this semester for about 60-90 minutes per session via WebEx, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Topics that should be covered are, for example:
- Everyday life as a student: What does a typical day in their life as a German/American student look like? What are the similarities and differences? What are current topics among students in Germany/the United States that are being discussed?
- Academics: How and when do students select the courses they are planning to take? Which platforms are being used for online instruction and administrative purposes (access to transcripts and grades, course registration, etc.)? Do students need to register for exams? If so, how do they do that?
- Baden-Württemberg vs. Connecticut: What are features specific to the region/city/state? What needs to be on every student’s bucket list for BW and CT?
The goal is to practice the language of the host country and divide the meeting time between German and English. Depending on the student’s level of fluency and familiarity with the other language, they may not need to correct each other’s vocabulary or pronunciation very much but should still pay attention to these details.
Students are expected to keep a journal and use the following questions as guidelines for their entries after each meeting with their Tandem partner:
- What topics did you talk about?
- Which was the dominant language during your conversation?
- What did you take away from this meeting?
- What did you learn about your host country, state, city, and /or university?
Three of our Wesleyan students signed up and now have a Tandem partner. Just as UConn awards credits to their students, I offer a half-credit group tutorial for our Wesleyan students.
Needless to say, these online meetings do not substitute for in-person meetings and study abroad, but they are a bridge to a world, and to people, that we currently cannot visit in person.