Reflecting on my three-week experience of learning, teaching and conversing in German has been difficult because it was a spontaneous whirlwind of encounters, adventures and lessons. Before I left for Germany, I was anxious about helping to launch a pilot project which I thought would be very emotionally harrowing, given that we were going to be working with refugees. Although not every experience was positive, I was unprepared for the level of optimism and resilience that I encountered.
Barfußpfad (Barefoot walk) on our last day of the Summer school
The highlight of my week became our weekly visits to a refugee cafe in Bad Kreuznach. For some, the cafe offered a brief escape from the pressure of starting a new life in a foreign country; for others, it was their lifeline for navigating their way through German bureaucracy. Whilst of no use in the latter area, I was able to play cards and help the people there forget where they were for a bit. Communication was…interesting. German was always the go-to language, but sometimes English and body language just had to suffice. This taught me that misunderstandings are simply part of life and communication will never be perfect. I’m glad I realised this now because I’m about to spend a year as an Erasmus student in Germany, and had I not overcome my fear of mistakes, I’m sure I would be going to Germany with a far different mind-set.
As well as the refugee cafe, I helped to lead a two-week Summer school for children from one of the high schools in Bad Kreuznach. I was astounded to learn that the school is home to 49 different nationalities. One of the hardest challenges of the Summer school was incorporating German into fun activities and making it accessible to all different abilities. I’m not ashamed to say that a lot of the children’s German was better than mine. Their rapid acquisition of the language is testament to how unconsciously courageous they are and gave me a newfound appreciation of Germany’s ability to create a thriving environment. Integration was a word I heard repeatedly, yet its meaning was never really elaborated on. I came to realise the meaning of this word by living in the tiny Weindorf of Zotzenheim for the duration of my stay. Some locals were wary of a group of twenty young people moving into their parish house for three weeks, so we made it our mission to be as active as possible in the village. The effort we had to put into gaining acceptance in the village gave me an insight into just how hard integration is. Regardless of how helpful and educated people may be, it takes time and effort to restore an equilibrium.
The Principal’s fund gave me the opportunity to meet a rainbow of personalities from all walks of life and I’ve realised that life is just one big lesson.
Playing Jenga at the Bon Cafe