May 28, 2019

Bringing Hawaii, USA to Cottbus, Germany

By Uy-Di Nancy Le

Uy-Di Nancy Le visiting Berlin during her stay in Germany

“The destination is less important than the path you took to get there. Enjoy the journey and be able to look back without feeling lost where you are.” is a personal philosophy of mine. As my time in Cottbus comes closer to the end, I find myself already looking back and re-living such incredible memories.

Students at the Europaschule Regine-Hildebrandt-Grundschule in Cottbus

Being placed at Regine Hildebrandt Grundschule Europaschule, I found myself surrounded by a diverse student population, whose families are from various parts of the globe, and by a wonderfully warm and welcoming school staff. Working with the teachers, I have been able to contribute so much to my school community in a variety of ways. We made paper pumpkins for Halloween, sang Hawaii-themed Christmas songs in December, had a school Christmas market for students and parents, played Easter games in English, and baked Hawaiian Butter Mochi together for Europe/International Week in May.

One of my favorite memories is actually a recent one where I showed my students how to make a Hawaiian Ribbon Lei. In Hawaii a lei can represent a variety things. It could be used, for example, to welcome someone, to show appreciation and as a way to celebrate together. Being born and raised in Hawaii, my understanding of a lei in the simplest terms is that a lei is given as a way to share joy with one another. For Mother’s Day, my students and their teachers learned how to make a basic two ribbon lei; a lei I learned how to make when I was 7 years old in Honolulu, Hawaii.

A Hawaiian two ribbon lei

I also realized that our role as Fulbrighters truly does extend beyond the classroom. Flixtrain offered incredibly affordable fares and I could not resist the chance to visit my German fiancé (who I met while searching for someone to practice German with as preparation for Fulbright) in Hessen. It was a 4-hour train ride and so I began making the same leis I had shown my students. As I was looping the ribbons through one another, I realized my neighbors in the compartment watching curiously. Breaking the ice, I explained what I was doing, which led to me showing them how to make one, as well as to all sorts of great conversations regarding multiculturalism, tolerance, travel and compassion for all walks of life. On a single train ride I was able to facilitate a cultural exchange between five strangers. Simple though it may seem, I am quite proud of this fact, and am happy at the thought that many other Fulbrighters and travelers likely also have such exchanges.

The distance between Hawaii and Germany is about 12,000 km apart; the two being nearly exactly on the other side of the world from each other. As a Fulbrighter, I was given the chance to not only cross that physical distance but also to help build and develop the connections between Hawaii, USA and Germany. My year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant has shown me how one person could positively impact the lives of others, regardless of their nationalities or heritages. When I look back at my Fulbright year, I can continue to be proud of the decision I made to be a part of the Fulbright journey.

Uy-Di Nancy Le with teachers and visitors at her school in Cottbus

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