University adds Germany to list of international connections
November 16, 2012Tweet
Binghamton University has expanded its international relations by playing host to exceptional college students from the German Fulbright Kommission.
About 25 Fulbright scholars from technical schools in Germany spent the month of August on campus taking diversity courses and visiting local and regional sites. It was the second straight year that German students visited the University.
“It’s enormously beneficial in part because it’s an important world region,” Katharine Krebs, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Office of International Programs, said of the German outreach. “Our relationship with Europe is so much a part of our international relations. … I don’t think we want to focus extensively on Asia or the Middle East to the exclusion of Europe, so it was exciting to have the group here.”
Binghamton University was just one of two U.S. institutions to play host to the German Fulbright scholars (the University of North Carolina-Wilmington was the other). The University originally received a letter of invitation from the Fulbright Kommission to submit a proposal. The two were familiar were each other, as Career Development Center Director Nancy Paul was one of 24 college officials selected for Fulbright’s 2008 U.S.-Germany International Education Administrators Program.
“I thought we would be interested because Binghamton has a lot of potential to develop some interesting international programs in the summer,” Krebs said. “It’s a down time on campus, but a beautiful time of year in upstate New York. I believed it was a project that could be a high-quality venture.”
Fulbright officials received the proposal and went to the University’s website to learn more. There they saw many of Binghamton’s international honors.
“That was a factor in winning for us,” Krebs said.
A ‘top-notch’ experience
While the 2011 session examined entrepreneurship, the 2012 program looked at diversity in U.S. history and society, with New York state serving as a microcosm of the United States. Students spent Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays taking two classes: “American Diversity” and “Problem and Promise in the United States.” Mondays, Fridays and weekends were spent on excursions to places such as New York City, Rochester, Seneca Falls, Philadelphia, Toronto and Niagara Falls. The students also engaged with community groups such as the Southern Tier Independence Center, Southern Tier AIDS Program, Tri-Cities Opera and Shumaker Engineering and went to the Harford Fair and a Binghamton Mets game.
“We looked at immigration, gender, race, class and sexuality,” said Suronda Gonzalez, director of the Global Studies Minor and director of Languages Across the Curriculum. “While (the program) may be Binghamton-specific, it had regional, national and international components to it. “It shifts their perspective so they think in more complex ways about the U.S. and about their own environment.”
Gonzalez was a constant, steady presence to the students, taking part in nearly every excursion.
“They were smart, asked sharp questions and were able to take on a challenge and complete it,” she said. “They were willing to talk and we had open discussions with them. They took this seriously.”
Gonzalez also was able to observe lifestyle differences between the German students and Americans. For example, the students were surprised by the amount of American flags and nationalism in the United States.
“They told me that in Germany, this kind of nationalism isn’t displayed,” she said. “It’s reminiscent of the 1930s and 1940s.”
Students also told Gonzalez that they were struck by how Americans could buy guns at the supermarket.
“I said, ‘What do you mean by “at the supermarket?”’ They were referring to Walmart.”
But the students also displayed a sense of humor, Gonzalez said.
“I said to them at the beginning of the program: ‘This is a top-notch institution.’ They took this ‘top-notch’ term and used it for everything they thought was good! Lunch was top-notch. They even gave us a cake at the end of the program that said ‘Top-notch.’”
In the classroom
For Shannon Hilliker, a lecturer in the English as a Second Language Program, instructing and traveling with the scholars was unforgettable.
“This is a whole experience, as compared to a classroom experience that I get during the year with students who I see for an hour and 20 minutes,” she said.
On the final day of Hilliker’s diversity class, the students gave short presentations about various U.S. states, offering five facts about the far-away places. Students tapped their desks in appreciation after each presentation. There is no clapping in German classrooms, Hilliker said.
Besides the occasional mispronunciation (“Des Moines,” for example) and referring to states such as Ohio and Indiana as “the middle east,” the students were enthusiastic and accurate in their presentations.
“We don’t get a lot of European students,” Hilliker said. “Having students here with a European perspective who can interact with people on campus is important.”
The students not only enjoyed the on-campus interaction, but meeting community members, as well.
“The people were so open-minded to us,” said Natalie Litzel, from Neu-Ulm. “For example, we went to a Binghamton Mets baseball game and it was announced that the Fulbrights were there. People just came up and started talking to us. They were so nice.”
“It was great that we were able to take part in so many sporting activities here, like volleyball, basketball and soccer,” said Andreas Stoerk of Tuttlingen, who was excited to meet the men’s soccer team.
The students were also impressed by the University’s structure, especially its residence halls.
“This campus is different from Germany,” said Marietheres Kokert of Leipzig. “We just have a few buildings. Here you have what is like a whole town.”
“The dorms create a community-like feeling for us,” Litzel added. “In Germany, there are dorms where you can live, but they are not on campus. They don’t have the ‘family spirit.’”
Krebs is optimistic that German students will return to Binghamton in 2013, as the Fulbright session has earned “rave reviews” from participants.
The program not only benefits the visiting students, but the campus and community, as well, she said.
“It’s a challenge that they visit in August, but we’ve been able to identify local students or student groups or athletes who are here that they can interact with,” she said. “We also get the group out into the local community for a variety of visits. The feedback we get from our community groups is that they are delighted to experience the German student perspective and be part of Binghamton University’s international engagement.”