Nov 13, 2017

A Tar Heel Abroad: New Outlooks gained in former East Germany

By Daniel Franch

Teaching at the at the Gymnasium Philanthropinum in Dessau, Germany

As a 2016-2017 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at the Gymnasium Philanthropinum in Dessau, Germany, I have made invaluable connections, improved both my professional foreign language teaching and personal skills, and spread goodwill as a representative of the United States. I decided to apply for a Fulbright Grant to Germany largly due to my passion for history and the German language and culture. My northern Italian family roots close to the German Tyrol region and father’s studies in Germany after emigrating to the U.S. in 1957, combined to inspire my educational direction. My father studied German for his college language credits. I studied some French and Spanish in elementary and middle school, but I didn’t have a passion for them. Then, after talking with my high school’s German teacher at orientation, who was from a small village outside of Bern, Switzerland, I fell in love with the language. My passion for history developed mostly from my badge work as an Eagle Scout. It grew stronger through watching Ken Burns’ documentary about the Civil War and others while in middle school. I chose to attend East Carolina University over other fine schools, because I knew I wanted to become an educator. When exploring university opportunities, I learned how good the history and German programs are at East Carolina, and I was impressed by Dr. Dionna Draper Manning, the director of the Office of Educator Preparation. The German foreign language credit made getting the history degree a no-brainer. My first trip to Germany was in the summer of 2013, where I studied at the private Carl Duisberg Language Training Center. Then, I returned in 2015 for another summer of learning. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to study a foreign language in the country where it’s spoken. Your life is consumed by the language; in the grocery store, the post office and all the interactions of daily life. Even now, I am working in a region where most Germans' English skills are poor. During my second year as an ETA, I will be living in Saxony and will have to get used to a new German dialect.

Living in former communist East Germany has at times been both challenging and eye-opening, for the infrastructure is not as developed as in western German states and the population is graying and shrinking. Fortunately, the German skills that my high school German teacher and East Carolina University German professors taught me helped me overcome the challenges I faced at the beginning of my Fulbright journey. Although it took three months to settle in here, the teachers and staff at my school and the French teaching assistant were extremely welcoming. Several teachers have revealed some positive aspects of life in former East Germany to me, including: "Zusammenhörigkeitsgefühl" - the feeling of togetherness that represented a strong bond among all social classes due to less wealth inequality, fully-subsidized K-16 education, strong support of science and rational thinking in the educational system, and greater equality for women. On the other hand, my teachers also described the terror of living under the constant threat of being arrested by the Ministry of State Security, having little access to certain fruits and many goods, waiting 12-14 years to receive an East German Trabant automobile, and being persecuted for believing in a religion. After telling me numerous stories about their earlier lives in the socialist East German dictatorship, all of the teachers disclosed that they prefer living in a reunited Germany.

A Spring 2017 Fulbright Leipzig Chapter Stammtisch at Substanz Biergarten

Through engagement in extracurricular activities at my German school and a virtual “English for You” club, I have made the most of my first Fulbright year in Germany. For example, I have helped promote the democratic ideals of respectful, fact-based debate to my students by volunteering with my school's debate club. Together with students and the advising teacher, we visited the State Parliament of Saxony-Anhalt several times throughout the school year to debate proposed bills with students from other schools and to observe a live parliamentary session. I even had the privilege to visit the German Parliament in Berlin with students and take a tour of the Bundestag, the Reichstag, the Berlin Wall Memorial, and other cultural sights. President John F. Kennedy would certainly be proud had he lived to see East and West Berlin - and all of Germany - reunited and transformed into such a humble, industrious republic. As an Eagle Scout, seeing how students react to my irrepressible enthusiasm about our country and form of government has made my assistantship even more rewarding.

Along with volunteering with my school's debate club, I sing in the school choir and occasionally paint in the art club. Furthermore, I lead my own virtual English club called "English for You" via Moodle where students read cultural articles from newspapers and magazines such as “Our State”, answer discussion questions, and discuss with their peers in an online discussion forum. During my free time, I read books in German and English, improve my Italian language skills, and travel to other culturally-significant places in Germany and Europe. What's more, I am extremely fortunate to be able to return to teach for a second year at the Gymnasium Philanthropinum thanks to the German government. As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, I have fostered a passion in my students for learning more about the English language, the United States and other English-speaking countries, the free market, and the benefits of republican government.

My next step after this second year is to return to my hometown, Raleigh, NC, and begin my career teaching German at the secondary level. My goals for this second year are to use more games during lessons, start a pen pal exchange between students in my old high school German teacher's classes and German students at my Gymnasium in Dessau, visit more countries in Europe on my list, and take an Italian course at the University Leipzig. After a thrilling first year in Germany, I am motivated to make this second year even more meaningful for others and myself.

Stone skipping with Coline Lapointe and German Fulbright Scholar Daniel Schmuck along the Rhine in Bonn.

Daniel Franch is a 2016-2017 Fulbright ETA grantee to Germany who returned for a second year to the Gymnasium Philanthropinum in Dessau. In May 2016, he graduated from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Arts in German and a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in History and History Education. Daniel has spent his Fulbright experience living in both Leipzig and Dessau where he teaches English and American Studies in grades 6-12, improves his Italian language skills, and promotes more interorganizational cooperation between the German Fulbright Alumni Association, Parlamentarisches Patenschafts-Programm, and other transatlantic exchange programs in Germany.

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