My Experience Observing in Berlin, Germany

Amy Miller is the Director of Education at the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth where she manages the Global Young Leaders program. In June 2018, CIEE invited Amy to travel to Berlin, Germany to observe the German Language & Culture program for a few days. Here is what she learned from her time there!

My most formative experience in college was not joining a sorority, living in the dorms, or studying through the night in the library, but studying abroad. My semester in Madrid, Spain taught me many valuable skills that I use daily in my professional life such as independence, flexibility, and cross-cultural communication. However, I think the most important thing that the experience taught me was to see the world through the eyes of another nationality, including their history, language, and values. My time in Spain was so transformational that I moved back after graduation for two years to get my master’s degree and teach English, only to return to Dallas to get a job helping students to understand the world better.

I have worked at the non-profit, non-partisan World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth for four years now and in my role as Director of Education, I manage the Global Young Leaders program, which creates an intelligent pathway for North Texas high school students to achieve ambitions in international careers and education. I have had the pleasure to collaborate with CIEE through this role, encouraging students and teachers from 70 North Texas high schools to travel abroad and experience life in different corners of the globe. Many of these educators and learners have taken advantage of CIEE’s international programs focused on leadership, language, and culture, traveling with them and returning to the U.S. with impressive stories and new perspectives on those societies they visited.

In June, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Berlin, Germany to observe CIEE’s summer language and culture program over the course of three days. The month-long program provides high school students from around the United States with the chance to learn first-hand about German language, culture, and history. The schedule that students follow throughout their time in Berlin generally consists of morning language classes followed by lunch, a cultural activity in the city, and time with their host families.

Most of the students I spoke with had not done much traveling previously, so this trip was a brand new experience for them. Students without much international travel experience often need programs that push them out of their comfort zones in addition to opportunities where they can branch out on their own. I think CIEE does an excellent job of balancing these two challenges with opportunities to explore and learn about culture through formal academic settings and personal interactions.

I am especially a fan of the fact that CIEE places students with host families while they are living abroad because it is such an essential component to developing conversational language skills and understanding the culture. I have my former host family in Madrid to thank for my strong Spanish language skills. Maria, my host mom, refused to speak English with me and really encouraged me to speak Spanish with her, even when the experience was uncomfortable and difficult. Her encouragement gave me to confidence to use my language skills without fear of making a mistake. Prior to that trip, I studied Spanish for roughly 10 years without developing the ability to speak the language. Living with a host family gives one the chance to peer into daily life in another country, build strong relationships and break down barriers, whether they be cultural or linguistic.

During my brief time in Berlin, I was blown away by the rapid rate at which the students were acquiring German language skills.

During my first day, I sat in on a morning class with the beginner German students, who had only been studying the language for roughly one week. I was shocked to see the instructor in front of the class speaking solely in German while the students followed along closely, observing, taking notes, and collaborating on group assignments. The teacher was clearly experienced given his strong ability to convey points with body language and intonation. This experience affirms to me that a total immersion experience, like the one CIEE is offering in Berlin, is the quickest and most effective way for students to learn a new language.

During my second day in Berlin, I went with a group of students and staff to tour the German Parliament Building and learn about its history and functions today. Our tour guide did a terrific job of narrating 20th century German history and providing us with context to the historical events that took place in the building, such as the fall of the Nazis and transition to a democratic form of government. As the government changed, so did the building when an architect transformed the space from a dark, gothic style to a light and open space with a lot of glass to represent transparency in the government.

Experiences like this are so important to students’ experiences abroad because they not only help the learners observe the city as it is today, but understand historically what led to this point. Such context gives students a deeper understanding of modern culture and customs in the country, helping them develop deeper relationships with the people. I am glad that CIEE provides such opportunities to the students in the program because they provide tangible learning experiences for that will stay in their hearts and minds much longer than classroom lessons.

Overall, I was very impressed by CIEE’s Berlin program and I strongly believe in their mission to develop lifelong learners who are curious about other countries and cultures, bringing people together. Our world needs more programs that foster the development of understanding and mutual respect between communities through the exchange of ideas and experiences, so I applaud CIEE for the good work they do around the world. I look forward to hearing more from the students and teachers I work with about their adventures and interactions with other cultures through CIEE programs.

-Amy Miller

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