Breaking down stereotypes and language barriers: Language summer school in Germany

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With the aid of the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund, I spent 3 weeks volunteering in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. During this time, I taught at a German language summer school for students who were learning German as a second language, and also worked with refugees. In Bad Kreuznach and the surrounding area there are many refugee camps and many of the students on our summer school were refugees. Some of them had only been in Germany a few months, some even a few weeks! Yet it is unbelievable how quickly they pick the language up.

The first day I was responsible for these students, I have never felt so overwhelmed in my life. It was terrifying; how had I thought I could help? What could I do? Some of their stories were incredible and I could not even begin to imagine their situations.

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But I realised panicking was unproductive. If I wanted to make a difference, no matter how small, I had to be practical about it. What were my strengths? And what is most important to remember is any effort- no matter how small- can make a difference.

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Secondly, my fear was about my own language ability: How is my German good enough? The thought of living independently in Germany was scary! It was tough to start, but you really have to power through and be self-confident. Language learning is about making mistakes and learning to be unashamed. It is not embarrassing. Stay motivated! You can always do more than you think. But you have to try. Fluency does not happen magically; without time and effort and the endless mistakes of gender and articles and verb conjugations, you will not get anywhere. But once you start embracing the language, the speed of improvement is amazing and such a fulfilling experience.

A lot of the experience came down to communication. I really learnt the importance of sharing. Loneliness and homesickness can be hard when abroad, but I think it is important to share these feelings. If you feel lonely, tell someone! Chance is, they probably are too, but if not we have all been there and they can understand. Just telling someone helps.

And I discovered the endless possibilities in communication. Languages are incredible, and I met some amazingly talented linguists- but I also experienced the significance of simple gestures and sense. Touch, sight, sound: humans are amazingly diverse in communication methods! The basis of our humanity is these shared experiences. Despite the thousands of miles separating our origins, in a tiny café in Germany I could meet and learn some beautiful personalities.

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World crisis appear removed when we view them on the news. And it is easy to think there is nothing you can do to help- but this is wrong, it is just about starting small. My experience is relatively insignificant but what matters now is what others do- what you do- to make a difference.

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