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.
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.
One 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.
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.