Modern Germany at AUBG

During my stay at AUBG I had the good fortune to participate in a class in Professor Stantcheva’s Modern Germany advanced language level course.  This particular unit was on the broader topic “money”, not just on the Euro as the predominant currency, but it also included discussions on the Swiss Frank, counterfeit money, virtual money, Old money (the Mark), and a critical piece on the “Euro as Teuro” (expensiveo!). Students had completed a homework fill- in- the- gap- assignment to prepare themselves for today’s topic by studying the relevant basic vocabulary. This exercise then also served as a nice warm-up for the class. In anticipation of the small texts to be read and their discussion, Prof. S. provided students with the respective text headings and had students brainstorm ideas about what these texts might be about specifically. This was a great way to engage students with the materials and vocabulary. Something was now at stake when Diana had her students read these short texts and then assess whether their assumptions were met or not. It turned out that students’ guesses were pretty right on in most cases, but there were a few surprises as well (Falsches Geld? Wrong money?). Students also expanded their Wortschatz, their word treasure, significantly during this exercise and refreshed some historic facts about European currencies nearly seamlessly on the side. The unit ended with an engaging discussion question: What do you believe our currency will look like in the future? to which students contributed with very interesting comments and ideas.

The class ended with a student presentation on the German Education system in preparation of the next class meeting. This PPT presentation by Economic and Business major senior Nataliya S. led to an interesting discussion on what makes Germany (as well as Austria and Switzerland) attractive to students from East-European countries.  Primarily students mentioned the high quality of education, the fact that it’s affordable and Germany as a premier economic power. Interesting to me was the impression that students understood themselves primarily as Europeans and less so as being of a specific nationality.All students in the class were multi-lingual with German being a third or forth language in their linguistic repertoire, a fact that was echoed not without a tinge of envy by our Denison students in their video conference assessment of our synchronously connected courses the previous Wednesday.

Students in this course are pursuing majors in Economics and Business Administration, Political Science, European Studies, and Computer Science, which also reflects the university’s main areas of study. Compared to Denison U, AUBG is much more of a professionally focused school than a liberal arts college in the classic sense. For example, despite the fact that AUBG is an American college in Eastern Europe where English is not necessarily the second but often the third language that students speak, the college does not offer an English major, not even a minor. Their American Studies major appears to be more of a complement to such areas of inquiry as Economics or Political Science than the study of American culture in a more humanistic sense. Similarly, despite the strong interest in all things German, the course offerings do not go beyond German language courses when it is clear that many students are keenly interested in at least a minor. Nor are there any other language courses offered that go beyond the basics.Perhaps one can say in summary that the humanities are certainly not as strongly represented as one would expect in a more typical liberal arts college.

Besides being multi-lingual and multi-cultural, students here are hard-working and dedicated to their studies. They are highly engaged, inquisitive, and very interested in learning about other cultures and  their practices. I very much enjoyed interacting with these very impressive young people.

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9th CLAC Conference @ Denison U

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Cultures and Languages across the Curriculum (CLAC) at

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Conference Theme: Engaging a Wider Community through CLAC

Save the Date

April 16 and 17, 2015

on the beautiful Denison University Campus in Granville, Ohio!

For previous conference information visit the CLAC Consortium Website.

CLAC Conference Website will be up soon.

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Synchronous class AUBG and Denison was a success!

 

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After a successful equipment test on the previous Monday, students in Professor Diana Stantcheva’s Modern Germany course and Denison students connected synchronously via Jabber on Wednesday evening (Bulgarian time: 17:45, EST: 10:45 am). Diana and I had planned a 30 minute class component to take place in my Denison colleague Gary Baker’s class, which asked students to introduce themselves and then discuss questions of interest to each group that had been prepared as a homework assignment. Since Diana’s class had been covering “advertisement” in class, students were also encouraged to practice their newly acquired vocabulary by asking Denison students questions on this topic.

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Denison’s class was much larger in size (14 students compared to 5 at AUBG), which meant that each AUBG students was challenged to speak much more individually than their Denison counterparts. They did not seem to mind, however, and tried their best to answer and ask questions. This seems to be a general characteristic of the typical AUBG student, they make a real concerted effort to communicate thoughtfully and with much engagement. Being students in a school of s multi-lingual environment, of course, contributes significantly to their relative comfort and ease in switching linguistic and cultural codes.The difference in class size also meant, however, that not all Denison students got to ask questions in the short time allotted for this initial meeting, but the questions they did ask were engaging and interesting.

DSC_6490.JPG.client.x675 - Version 2One DU student, for example, wanted to know why students at AUBG are studying German. AUBG students first emphasized how important it is in a global world to speak several languages, and then explained specifically that attending university in Germany or Austria as European Studies and Business majors is especially attractive. Several students are contemplating getting their advanced degrees in either Germany or Austria. They further said that with Germany being a key player in the world’s economy with business locations in most countries attractive to them,  it is of great benefit to know German well. When AUBG student’s asked Denison students the same question, they received similar answers about the business world, but less so in regard to studying for an advanced degree in a German-speaking country. One student’s question about the Bulgarian’s opinions regarding Americans caused a little stir perhaps, but the AUBG students proved to be real troopers in trying to answer the question as honestly as they could in such a short time. The response was essentially a very positive one, stressing that they perceive Americans as hard-working and highly motivated towards professional success. In our debriefing session after the conference was concluded AUBG students expressed that they would have liked to hear what Americans thought of Europeans, perhaps East-Europeans, which again shows how “selbstverständlich” their identity as Europeans is to them. Of course, clearly, this aspect is also the product of studying at an internationally focused school that is comprised of a multitude of nationalities, languages, and cultures.

Diana and I prepared a questionnaire about the online meeting for students to reflect on different aspects such as expectations, surprises, challenges, the technology, and their opinions of the importance of intercultural communication. Both Denison and AUGB students have been asked to answer these questions candidly (in German) and email them to the three professors. An initial discussion at AUBG in regard to surprises generated a very interesting answer by an AUBG student: “I am surprises that such a technology exists!”

What was the student’s first reaction on both sides: let’s do this again – this was so much fun and we learned so much!! Diana and I were beaming with delight – such a response makes all the trials and tribulations associated with such a project worthwhile! Without a doubt.

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A photographer from AUBG Today magazine was present to take pictures of the event. A reporter also came to our joint presentation during the (very impressive!!) annual Student-Faculty Research Conference to report on our project both in the printed and online magazine. It was very encouraging that students expressed so much interest in this connected courses project. I will post more once they make some pictures and their story available.

Whether our project is of interest to the institution as whole, however, is not immediately obvious. Several faculty members, on the other hand, across the disciplines expressed great interest and asked for the conversation to be continued.

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Best Places in Blagoevgrad

This is now my 8th day in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. And while it’s been very interesting to spend time at AUBG and get to know many lovely students and faculty members, I have now also had the pleasure to meet some really great local people. The latter can be a bit tricky because outside of the university very few people speak English. I had always had a suspicion that the convenient claim that “everybody speaks English in this day and age” simply isn’t true across-the-board like that. Well, here certainly it isn’t! That has its challenges but also its rewards. You really learn a lot about people when they don’t speak your language(s). And you learn a lot about yourself, too. Just how creative can you be with hands and feet, eyes and facial expressions, or a simple pencil? And one good tip: Google translate for Bulgarian is definitely not recommended especially when you try to order food (and end up with “meet tasty bulgar” and the whole restaurant laughs at you. Could have been worse, could have ended up with the chef himself!) And Google maps also isn’t much help when all the street signs are in the cyrillic alphabet.

Some places have quickly become favorites.

Number 1: Chance Restaurant

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Definitely, tops after a long day at the desk is this little restaurant by the river championing the big with fate name Chance. It’s situated right at the river by a pretty bridge with benches and tables under big umbrellas right next to the bubbling waters. The inside of the place is modest, but the bucolic view out of the row of windows along the length of the walls facing the river is majestic. Not only is the owner, George, very welcoming but he simply must be able to read minds. The menu is in Bulgarian only and we don’t speak each other’s language, but somehow I always get exactly the food that I have in mind. The food, too, is modest, but very tasty and the wine very drinkable (add a little ice to the white, Bulgarians seem to prefer room temperature drinks). And every restaurant is only as good as its guests are, too! Whenever I go, somebody joins me at the table for a hands and feet conversation. Sometimes George does so too.  Not to worry, though, the less socially inclined guest can comfortably sit at a table by herself undisturbed.

 

Test: Synchronous Connection AUBG and Denison University German Courses

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On Monday we tested the conference equipment in the room AUBG has set up for video conferencing. It is the only room with an installed camera, the individual computers in the classrooms and in the language lab do not have cameras installed. Katerina, one of two of AUBG’s ITs for the entire building that houses several university offices and departments, had established the connection via Jabber software on the large screen in the room. The camera sits on top of it and can easily be pointed to best capture the persons seated around a 12 seats conference table. The connection was beautiful and without any interferences. Cheryl reported that on the Denison side, the sound coming from us was good but somewhat metallic. She concluded that the room did have wooden floors, rather than carpet, which absorbs the sound just enough to give it a less hollow sounding quality. This first test was very encouraging to all of us. If I understood this correctly, this equipment was installed over a year ago and had never been used for anything. So this was a virgin run for the equipment as such as well.

Homeless Dogs in Bulgaria

 

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I usually try to sneak a bulb or clipping into the US from wherever it is that I am visiting. From Bulgaria, however, I am much more tempted to import a dog. Bulgaria has tons of homeless dogs everywhere in their cities and villages and if it had not been for Brigitte Bardot -yes, the actress – they wouldn’t even be alive. You might have heard about it in the news a while ago, several celebrities got all involved in saving post-socialist animals, especially dogs. Brigitte Bardot effected that the dogs be sterilized and not killed, but the running joke here is that since Bulgarians are not trying to have sex with the dogs but rather are trying to not be killed by them it would have been better to invest in pulling their teeth. The dogs I have seen – and met – certainly wouldn’t bite anybody though. They are very friendly, real survivors. Everyday I walk to the university, one of them meets me by the alley entrance and trots behind me until I get to the entrance area. I wish I could bring him home. But colleagues here tell me that tourists want to do so all the time and that it is almost impossible because of the red tape.

And then I realized that they also have a very vivid social life after 6 pm. They can get a little testy at that point. Peer pressure.

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Then.. I saw her.. but she’s a little different from the others..

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Shared homelessness.

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