Category Archives: Germany

Holidays in Germany

Posted by Katie L.

Hello from Cuxhaven! The past few months have consisted of time off for the holidays with family, getting to better know colleagues, brief snowfall, and lots of walks and hikes. At the end of November, many cities were able to open their traditional month-long Christmas markets. With holiday music, decorations, and so many good things to eat, I happily checked out markets in Bremen, Hamburg and Cuxhaven. My parents were able to come to spend the holidays with me here in Germany; it was such a cool and nice experience to show them were I work and live, as well as to introduce them to a colleague from my school’s English team. We spent the break exploring the surrounding area and visiting with family friends in central Germany. After spending New Year’s together (known here as “Silvester”), my parents flew home and I headed back to Cuxhaven to wrap up my first school term. The school schedule here is somewhat different: the fall/winter semester just ended with the last days of January, and the new school semester will begin tomorrow (February 2nd). I will continue working in some of the same English and German language classrooms that I have been involved with, as well as with a few new English classes with 11th and 12th graders. In my “German as a Foreign Language” class, (for teenagers and young adults who have moved to Germany in recent days, weeks or months and must reach German language proficiency), another teacher and I are working on a “Stadtrallye” for the students. This is somewhat like a city scavenger hunt/rally, designed to help the students to become more familiar with the city of Cuxhaven. In my English courses, students tackle a variety of subjects from current and historical social justice issues (in the US, in South Africa, and around the world), to Shakespeare, to the integration of refugees and migrants in Germany, to the politics of clothing production, and more. Students are interested in learning more about recent and current political and social movements in the US in particular, which allows for a good deal of reflection on my own perceptions and for a curiosity of my own regarding my home country. 

The German education system’s structure is somewhat different than what we experience in the US. After primary school (after the fourth grade), students are funneled into different study tracks based on teacher recommendations. Some are selected to follow a track lasting until they are about 18 years old that will offer preparation for studying at a university, while others may follow tracks at separate schools (such as vocational training programs) lasting until approximately age 15. At the school where I work, there are a variety of study tracks, along with the option to combine traditional academic learning with vocational training and internships. Some argue that the country’s educational structure leads to an unfair separation and organization of young people, while others suggest that the separation better targets students’ needs.

On a final note, new foods tried this month were Roulade and Labskaus (Northern German classics!).


Liebe Grüße aus Cuxhaven

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ETA in Germany

Posted by Robert H.

Hey y’all, Robert here.

I am from Mobile, Alabama and a 2018 graduate of the University of Alabama in political science and lifelong Blount Scholar. I originally thought I was not able to pursue a Fulbright Scholarship because of my GPA. It was good, a 3.28, but not great compared to the GPAs of other applicants for the three most prestigious international scholarships: Rhodes, Gates-Cambridge, and Fulbright. Further, I was a first-generation college student with no one in my community who had even thought about ever applying to Fulbright. Yet at the recommendation of Dr Feminella, who at the time was my German Professor (bless him for having to read my German essays back then), I set out to make an application for masters studies in Germany. Looking back as a graduate student now, this application was lacking a precise vision for what I wanted to study and how I wanted to apply both my time in Germany and my Master that I would gain in Germany. However, with the incredible support of UA’s Fulbright advisors, I was able to pass the first round and on to the final decision. However, around the time that I was about to graduate, I received a rejection letter. Distraught as I was set on starting my masters and being in Germany, I decided to seek out advice from both UA faculty and friends abroad and came to the conclusion that I should spend a year taking a job abroad and building up my resume to apply again. That decision, with encouragement from the entire advising staff, ended up being the best year of my life at that point. My time living and teaching English in Korea gave me the confidence and showed me a love for teaching that influenced my second Fulbright application as an English Teaching Assistant to Germany. Amidst the advent of the pandemic, I received notification that I had been accepted for a Fulbright Scholarship, which turned out to be a life-changer. I would have to wait another year to start my Fulbright, however, until we had the tools we had today to fight the pandemic with full force. Once August 2021 came around, I prepared myself for my flight to Germany with the assignment to the small city of Plauen, Saxony.

Since being here, I have constantly been surprised by the shared culture Germans and Americans have in, including finding love for American culture in cafes and shops. I even found a place that sells twinkies, of all things! Learning the language has been a continued struggle of renewing where I left off from undergrad and missed when I lived in Korea, yet I do surprise myself with how much I am now able to understand and communicate. My colleagues at my school regularly switch between English and German and I have gotten used to the Danglish needed to switch between the languages with ease. I am also taking an Academic German course with the goal of receiving my CEFR B2 by the end of the summer. I feel that I am almost entirely adjusted, joking with my German friends and the other foreign teaching assistants around Vogtland (Plauen’s county) that I need to save up to buy one of these amazing houses. I am currently living in a small apartment on the top floor that overlooks a small garden area and a part of the city. Saxony used to be part of East Germany so a lot of the buildings here are known as DDR-Builds, which my apartment is one, although updated. So far I have been on a good deal of adventures. I recently tried to learn how to ski and as a Southern Gulf Coast guy I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Needless to say, I had a nice visit to the doctor’s office after slamming into a tree.

COVID-19 has limited a lot of social and community life in Germany, with most places now having a “2G” requirement: either vaccinated or recovered. However I was happy to attend Plauen’s 900th year of existence book event and I am now assisting Fulbright Germany and the US Embassy in Berlin with Meet US, touring German schools and presenting on US culture and values. Education in Germany is far more specialized by education type than in the United States. I currently teach at a Gymnasium, which is a type of high school that is focused on university preparation, but there are several other types of schools that all have their role towards the different job and education needs in society. So to be able to travel and see all these types of schools and their amazing students is a fantastic opportunity.

Returning home I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends again and to picking back up in-person classes at my graduate school, American University’s School of International Service. I will certainly miss my time here and I will almost certainly be planning my return as soon as I get back to the US, yet to me, there is something beautiful about chapters of life coming to a close and thanking that time we have to give lessons to carry with us for the rest of our lives. After my final year of graduate school, it is my current intention to apply to Cambridge University’s POLIS PhD program, Gonville and Caius College.

My advice to a future Fulbright student is to keep your life goals certain but be flexible to all the ways life gets you to those goals. 10 year old me could have never imagined being in the position I am now. 20 year old me could have never imagined how I would get to the position I am now. 

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Culture in Germany

Posted by Katie L.

Hello again from the lovely German coast! Although dealing with the pandemic has certainly made my adjustment period here a unique experience, I am happy to be feeling very much at home in both my school and the small city of Cuxhaven.

Though Germany can be seen as a Western society and in this way is quite similar to the U.S. in many ways, various cultural differences can still be spotted. The first difference that always strikes me is the abundance of pedestrian and bike paths. Moving from a place in the U.S. where I am completely dependent on my car to a country where I am without it, I’m grateful that I never have to worry about how I’ll get to work, go to the grocery store, or even travel halfway across the country – Germany’s nod to Eco friendliness has taken care of that. I’ve also been taking the local trains around my state and other parts of the country, which makes travel so much more accessible. Additionally, I appreciate the culture of recycling. Though I recycle at home, things are definitely taken to another level here. My building uses four different color-coded trash containers, not counting the separate-by-color glass containers that the street shares. Becoming aware of such nuanced changes in daily life takes a little time, but will quickly become habit. Other (wonderful) differences include German breakfast, bread and baked goods. Walking into a good bakery or pastry shop can turn any day around. The “Brötchen” (similar to rolls) are breakfast classics that can be paired with any spread, meat or cheese. A cousin of the cinnamon roll and only found in Northern Germany, the “Franzbrötchen” is often associated with the city Hamburg, and is my personal favorite.

My feeling of adjustment is largely due to meeting people with a connection to Fulbright, such as past or present ETA’s, getting to know the teachers at my school, as well as meeting with people from across the county for things like night classes/events and volleyball training. Joining existing groups in a host community is a great way to feel more connected to your placement location and allows for visibility within the community (which is also one of the goals of Fulbright – establishing contact and relationships with members of the host state).

For the first time, Fulbright Germany has launched a mentoring program to pair American Fulbrighters with Germans who have carried out the grant in the U.S.. I’ve been paired with a former German Fulbrighter from Bremen (about 1.5 hours from Cuxhaven) who completed his grant year in Alaska. Programs such as these within the Fulbright community might be of interest for anyone interested in meeting more people of the host country, as well as getting to know how the other side of the scholarship looks.

Bis zum nächsten Mal!

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