Two 6-week Journeys In A Jar

My exchange experience in Germany with CSSG (Canadian Summer School in Germany) in 2017 and 2019.

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Me in 2017 during Dokumenta 14, the fourteenth edition of the art exhibition documenta

A typical day at CSSG

In the morning, students take a bus or a tram to University of Kassel. The class takes place in a church right next to Universität Kassel from 9a.m. to 12:30p.m. During the 20-minute break between classes, students often head to the Tor Café, where they can get snacks and beverages. After class, everyone usually goes to the Mensa on campus together for lunch. At lunch, everyone talks about their plans on the weekend with their host families or upcoming school trips to different cities. After lunch, everyone will either head back to the Tor Café at Universität Kassel to study, or hangout with their tandem partners. For those who hangs around after school, the instructors will also be taking care of students’ homework and questions at the café as well…

▨ The Team

The instructors are from different universities across Canada. They have extensive knowledge in language learning. In 2019, a new course (1000-level) was introduced to the program for those who have only little german knowledge.

In my opinion, it elevated the learning interest of the students at their early stage. Moreover, they also designed a penalty and reward system to encourage student to speak more german. Speaking from my personal experience, it can be very scary at the beginning. Being away from home and parents means that the CSSG team will be responsible for providing emotional support to the students.

The most outstanding quality of the CSSG team is that they are always available for the students.

Whether you are having trouble cramming all 5 learning diaries on a Friday or your boyfriend back home suddenly stopped talking to you, instructors never hesitate to help students overcoming their problems. A student from the program Kelsey also believed that the trust between teachers and students makes it easier to feel comfortable speaking and learning the language.

It is also very common to hangout with your instructors after class, such as going out to pubs or going to the gym together.They can be your best friends for a life time. And let’s not forget how rare it is to develop such intimate relationship with your instructors.

▨ Program features

The main appeal of the program is how CSSG combines the academic study with immersion in German daily life and culture. Students are both welcomed into a German host family and matched with tandem partners from various disciplines at the University of Kassel. CSSG also takes care to match students based on their hobbies, interests, and studies.

Tandem Partner

Similar to my experience in Canada, each student is assigned to a tandem partner from the University. In 2017, the problem of this program is the consistency of meetings and the quality of the meetings. In 2019, after another 2 years of effort to improve the program, I can see the improvement of the quality of the tandem partner program. I think the reason for this progress is the clear outline of activities students can do together. This year(2019), there is not only more regular mandatory meetings but also more activities. We will go to meetings and discuss the differences of our cultures in depth. And at the end of the program, my tandem partner gave me gifts.

Homestay

My experience tells me that in settings where the families are encouraging, friendly and patient, I make great improvements, not only the fluency of the language, but also the positive psychological mindsets to adapt the challenges in the learning process .

The families are well overall I had a wonderful experience staying the families in 2017 and 2019. It is interesting to learn about the german traditions. Mr. Sippel was an enthusiastic host with a great passion in running. I actually picked up the habit of running back in 2017 staying with the Sippel family. In 2019, I had a wonderful time staying with the Schäfer family. They are caring and open-minded. They showed me the love for sports and family. From time to time we went hiking and running together. There are also countless times when they help me with no only course work but also problems in life. Overall, I think CSSG did a good job for the homestay placements. Most of my classmates found a good match and considered the placements crucial to the quality of language learning.

Field trips and planning

In general, the structure of the program is very condensed. Although everything may seem overwhelming at the beginning, the teachers are very knowledgable and supportive. In addition to classroom teaching, the CSSG team provides one-on-one consultation hours and personalized language support and feedback on assignments.

Former students say they love the CSSG because they learn lots of German in a supportive environment, make lifelong friends, are creative in class, experience the unexpected, come face to face with history, and get to live, taste, smell, hear, and feel the culture.

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The CSSG team organizes field trips to historical sites as part of its program, 2017

▨ Learning from experience

CSSG is an experience that completely contradicts our existing believes. Coming from China, I had countless experience in cultural shock during my time in Canada. Overall, it was not a measure of a culture good or bad, but a positive understanding that things might not have to be the same way. There is no right way of doing anything.

Culture shock

Culture shock is a real thing. Counter-stereotype is also an experience that completely contradicts our existing believes. Everything someone has learnt can be defeated and unlearned. Our biases and believes subconsciously dictates our actions. At times when they are being challenged, it can be seen as opportunity for growth. There are many different individuals within an ethnic group, a village and a country. We should never discriminate individuals based on their ethnicities, appearances or believes. I am not encouraging anyone to see things differently but without having minimal respect towards other cultures and individuals, we may be missing out the opportunity to live our lives to the fullest.

A graphical learning diary by one of the students, 2017
A graphical learning diary by one of the students, 2017
A graphical learning diary by one of the students, 2017

Special: Making Friends Through Sports

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Playing with Rugby Kassel at the Orangerie, 2017

Besides schooling, I also had the opportunity to play rugby at a local club. It was a phenomenal experience to make friends through one of my beloved sports.

▨ Feedbacks

While the program is making progress, it would be amazing to consider the following:

Consistency

It is interesting to note that I always had a great time at the first couple meetings. The first meetings had high energy levels and students made great improvements. However, the enthusiasm started to fade as we got occupied with school work. I personally think that school work wasn’t the main factor of this change, but proper scheduling. That is why I think it is important is to chase after the momentum. The mandatory meetings played a huge part in keep people together. While it is good to have consistent meetings, it is important to keep them short (under 50 mins), as it is easier to work with schedules and longer time generally will have diminishing marginal returns.

Organizing more social activities

It has came to my attention that tandem partners and host siblings will sometimes participate in CSSG’s scheduled travels. The trips serve an important factor to encourage students to not only speak more German but also consistently apply what they learnt at the same time.

▨ Conclusion

Stepping into my final year of undergraduate studies, it was a wonderful closure as my first year german teacher Lisa, who also became a CSSG teacher, accommodated me all the way to the end of my CSSG journey. The CSSG team are the most patient, responsible and open-minded group of people I have ever interacted with. They are more likely to become your friends who you can trust and depend on. It is interesting to note that the classrooms, where located within a church around Universität Kassel, is also a kinder-garden throughout the school year.

As children, their energy and enthusiasm are at their prime. The program more or less picked up the characteristics of its joyous environment. Tracing back joyous memories when learning was not restricted by rules but often encouraged, I think CSSG has done it. It created a lush alien world of Pandora for students to expand their love of learning, build knowledge, develop their ability to get along with others, and explore ways of reaching out to the world.

Much love to the CSSG team for the wonderful memory.

Special thanks to

Dr. John L. Plews

Dr. Feisal Kirumira

Dr. Daniela Roth

Fr. Lisa Suessenbach

Fr. Steff Gibson

The Schäfer Family

You inspired me to create my own reality.

To learn more about Canadian Summer School In Germany, please visit https://smu.ca/international/cssg/.

August 26th, 2019

from Banff, AB Canada

Written by

Design/ Manufacturing Consultant based in Vancouver, BC. English, Deutsch, and 中文. See willi.uk

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