Ask Away: 5 Questions for a German-Speaking Student Advocate with Plans to Teach
We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Kate—a History and German Double Major at the Ohio State University who helped bring the Seal of Biliteracy to Ohio.
1. You just returned from a summer studying abroad in Europe. Can you tell us a little more about how you spent your time and used your language skills?
I actually only participated in a formal study abroad program for the month of May. During this time, I traveled to a few countries in Europe with twenty-three other Ohio State history students to study the Second World War and its legacy on the continent. My experiences in England, France, and Poland were incredible, but Germany holds such a special place in my heart.
I spent the rest of the summer working at the German Literature Archives in Marbach am Neckar and doing some volunteer work with the city refugee center and a local theater group. I didn’t use my language skills much while on my study abroad trip, but once I settled down in Marbach, I was speaking German exclusively.
I spoke German at work, at home, with my friends, at the refugee center, and just about everywhere else!
2. What sort of work did you do as an intern in the German Literature Archives?
I did a lot of work on the Hölderlin 2020 project. Friedrich Hölderlin was one of the greatest German poets of all time, whose works are honored in the country today. He lived most of his time in a tower in Tübingen am Neckar, a university town just south of Stuttgart. This tower is now a Hölderlin museum, and since this famous writer was born in 1770, the exhibit in his former home will be completely renovated in time for his 250th birthday in 2020.
I didn’t know who Friedrich Hölderlin was before I started this internship, actually, but starting in June, I researched the man, his writing, and his reception relentlessly. My work for this project included combing the archives and library for multilingual sources, piecing together dossiers for art and music inspired by the man, logging all Hölderlin poems and interpretations, and writing text that will hopefully be included in the exhibit!
I have already received my invitation to return to Tübingen to see the finished product!
3. Why German?
I had an excellent German teacher in the seventh grade, and she really helped foster my love for the language and culture. I realized, however, that I wanted to pursue German as a career when I first traveled to Germany and stayed with my host family as an American exchange student. That’s when I discovered my love for the people and lifestyle.
Germans as a whole are industrious and diligent, but they also enjoy life and know how to take care of themselves. Their society holds so many great values that resonate with me personally, like being hospitable to guests, supporting the arts, and preserving nature.
4. In high school, you were an advocate for the Seal of Biliteracy in Ohio and even testified before the Education Committee. What motivated you and why is the Seal important?
It was an incredible experience!
Almost all of my world language work is motivated by the fact that so many Americans can’t speak a different language and don’t understand the value in learning one. It is true that many people around the world speak English because it’s the lingua franca, but so many conflicts and issues in today’s society can be traced back to the fact that we aren’t making substantial efforts to learn about, understand, and appreciate peoples and customs that are different from ours.
I believe that solving the world’s problems starts with us communicating and connecting on a deeper level than just words, and this is more possible when we learn to speak another language and function in a different culture.
When states adopt the Seal of Biliteracy, it indicates that they value diversity, recognize the contributions people from all over the world have made to America, and challenge their students to serve society on a global scale.
5. How do you think that experience has helped shape your current German studies, and what advice do you have for other student language advocates who are interested in getting their state to adopt the Seal?
I am very motivated to prove to my fellow students that you don’t have to be an immigrant or come from a family of immigrants to excel in another language. I think a lot of American young people are discouraged and think that studying foreign languages is too difficult, but it is definitely possible. You should have to be willing to work hard at it.
My work with the Seal of Biliteracy has also inspired me to be involved in the German community at Ohio State, a group that contributes a great deal to the amazing cultural diversity at our university.
This is not a policy that many oppose. I would start by introducing the idea to your district representative and pointing out all of the states that have adopted the Seal. They should also demonstrate their own proficiency to their state representatives; we wanted to ensure that the people voting on this bill understood what conversational second language skills sound like. Show that it’s possible, and let them see that young people are motivated to avow the importance of multiculturalism in their communities!
BONUS QUESTION: Do you have any funny stories about speaking German abroad?
My boss at the German Literature Archives was one intimidating guy! After my first week on the job, he called me into his office and asked me if I was enjoying my work so far. I enthusiastically replied “Yes! Absolutely!” As it would turn out, I had mistranslated his question. He had actually asked if I had “regretting taking the position.” It was super embarrassing for me to explain that I had misinterpreted his German and assure him that I was definitely enjoying myself!
What’s next for Kate?
She’s definitely planning her next trip to Germany—first for research and visiting with her host family and friends, and then a longer stay after graduation. She plans to enter a career in education, either teaching European History or German at the secondary or post-secondary level.
In the meantime, she continues to serve as an advocate for language learning at OSU:
“As both a German student and a leader in our Undergraduate Student Government, I am working to develop new transcript endorsements that would recognize students who are proficient in at least two languages. I’m excited to play a role in the new, innovative initiatives coming out of the world language community both in and beyond the classroom at Ohio State.”
Are you interested in German language scholarships, university programs, or more student testimonials? Visit our Lead with German page to learn more. Or, considering an internship abroad? Check out our Study Abroad Programs page for information on available opportunities.
And don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media.