Apr 08, 2019
In early September 2017, I first met the students of my 10th grade advanced English conversation course at the Solgrabenschule in Bad Nauheim. Soon after we began to chat, I was struck by two things. Firstly, this group of 13 teenagers at a German school represented a diverse collection of nationalities, as a significant number of them came from countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Horn of Africa. Additionally, these students immediately surprised me with their interest in present-day American society. They asked me if we could learn about American cuisine, fashion, and other aspects of everyday life but they also wanted to talk about more serious and controversial American issues including racism, gun violence, and immigration reform.
This opening conversation on our first day came to define my experience with these students over the following tenth months. As we moved from topic to topic, I came to appreciate both my students’ curiosity and diverse backgrounds every time we met. Together we never had a dull moment in class, and were able to learn a lot from one another as well.
Working as an English teaching assistant and native speaker abroad naturally lends itself well to discussions of cross-cultural comparisons, as the assistant and their students can work together to better understand the differences and similarities between aspects of their two respective countries. However, with my group we were lucky enough to be able to share our opinions and experiences with immigration, racism, political conflicts, music, fashion, and food in many different corners of the world. Ultimately I think I gained a more nuanced understanding of current events in my own country and beyond, as I often heard perspectives and ideas from these students that had never occured to me before. Despite being nearly a decade younger than me, they had experienced places and things that I had little understanding of.
By the end of our school year together, I think it is safe to say that I was able to teach these young people a bit about the United States, while they taught me a great deal about the world as a whole.