Dec 17, 2018

My time as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Chemnitz

Von Solina Jean-Louis

Solina Jean-Louis currently works as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Chemnitz, Germany

Hallo! My name is Solina Jean-Louis and I am a current Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Chemnitz, Germany. As 2018 comes to a close, I've begun to think about how much I have changed in just the past few months. I knew that moving to a new country would be challenging, but I wasn't exactly sure what to expect.

I arrived in Chemnitz during a particularly unique time as the residents of the city began to grapple with the realities of ever-rising right-wing populism. As someone who was always engaged in political discussions back in the States, witnessing (and taking part in) conversations about race, identity, and political affiliation has proved extremely challenging and interesting here in Chemnitz.  As one of my roommates puts it, Chemnitzer's have been forced to engage in these conversations (many for the first time), and some have used it as an opportunity to engage politically in ways they never had before. These conversations extend into my daily life working at the Oberschule am Flughafen where I teach students from grades 6-10.

Chemnitz, formerly known as Karl-Marx-Stadt, has a giant bust of Karl Marx's head

As a recipient of the Fulbright Diversity Teaching Assistant grant, I am working in a school in which upwards of 40% of the students have an immigrant or refugee background. Coming from the city of Atlanta, I embrace this diversity and try as often as I can to incorporate diverse American traditions into my lessons.

For two hours a week, I work with 3rd and 4th graders at the Dr. Salvador Allende Grundschule, which has proved to be extremely fun! Starting my Monday mornings off with energetic 4th graders always puts me in a good mood. I am grateful to the teachers at the Oberschule am Flughafen and the Dr. Salvador Allende Grundschule for fostering an environment in which I can develop and grow my teaching skills. From lesson topics ranging from voter suppression laws and the Columbus Day controversy to talking about high school and sharing Christmas traditions, I have had a very rewarding time with my students.

Although I do not plan on pursuing a career in teaching, the skills I am developing in the classroom at the Oberschule will help me in whichever career I pursue.

With only 12 hours spent inside the classroom, I have lots of free time! I have signed up to be a "Patin" or "mentor" to a refugee family in Chemnitz. As I have learned from my time in Germany, however, bureaucracy takes a very long time, so I am still waiting to begin this volunteering. 

Solina with members of KulturCampus preparing for a Sri Lankan theme night. So many onions were chopped that day...

In the meantime, I have joined a club at the Technische Universität Chemnitz (where I am enrolled part time) called Kulturcampus. This club is a great place to meet both German and international students who see the benefits of intercultural communication. In Kulturcampus, we host intercultural trainings, promote anti-racism campaigns, and, my favorite, host theme evenings, where a member of the club presents their hometown or country and we eat food from that place. A few weeks ago, I presented to about 40 people about my home town of Atlanta. It was so fun! We ate peanut butter cookies, black bean stew, sweet potato casserole, and, of course, cobbler. It was such a wonderful way to share my culture with both Germans and other international members of the Chemnitz community. 

I still cannot believe that nearly four months have passed since I have moved to Chemnitz. Although I find myself now in the depths of the European winter, I know I can make it through to the spring with the energy of my students, coworkers, roommates, and friends keeping me upbeat. 

Solina is very grateful for the support of her mentor teacher, Ramona Jochmann.

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