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Deutsch-Amerikanischer Herrenclub München e.V.
German American Men's Club Munich
Member of the Federation of German American Clubs e.V.
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Student Reports

Youth Work

GE - EXCHANGE 2017 / 2018

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Von links:   Alexandra Challenger, John Grant Fentum, Rachel Dodson
Alexandra Challenger
Aus Florida, studierte als PhD Studentin Kunstgeschichte an der LMU in München

Over the course of my time in Munich, one of my strange hobbies has been to wander through all of the old and beautiful churches in the city as well as the surrounding area. Friends who expected to see museums or the English Garden were also shown the Frauenkirche and the Asamkirche. It isn’t necessarily religion that draws me to these old structures but the way that each building is a remarkable snapshot of a city’s history. Churches are complex buildings and are often built, rebuilt, and updated over hundreds of years. Some have ancient foundations, with medieval walls and Renaissance interiors. They contain epitaphs for the important figures in the city’s history—from wealthy merchants, to saints and political figures. They also have magnificent altarpieces, old sculptures, and intricate reliquaries made of gold and silver. Each church is different and each one reveals the many layers of a location’s history.

I mention my fascination with churches because it was, for me, one of the most remarkable parts about living in Germany for a year. History is literally all around me and even when visiting the smallest towns—places I had never heard of before moving here—I was surprised to learn of all the events that had taken place there. Perhaps a town was home to a famous scientist or artist. Perhaps it was the site of a major battle, or maybe Goethe had written a novel in one of its buildings. This is a major difference between the well-recorded and preserved past of Europe and the relatively recent history of America. In America, cities are much younger and often haven’t accumulated the same historic resonance that they have in most of Europe. This was fascinating because as an American student studying history, I often felt removed from many of the events that I studied because I read about them in books rather than experiencing them for myself.  For me, history could often consist of endless lists of dates and events that were seemingly unconnected to one another. Yet since I have been here, I have truly come to appreciate how many factors can shape the identity of a place and a people and how these identities are represented in the landscape of the city itself!

In fact, I am always amazed by the depth in which people can speak of their home towns in Germany. When I casually asked my neighbor where her family lived, a simple question quickly turned into a long discussion of the history of Bavaria. Because she had grown up only an hour from Munich, she was deeply aware of the region’s history and her own family’s role in it. Everywhere I travel, I encounter similarly knowledgeable people who can easily tell me the particular food, historic places, and events that make their region special.

The experience of seeing many historical cities (as well as living in one) has shaped the way I understand the past and its effects on the present. However, it also has made me think about the ways in which I approach my own culture and history in America. Perhaps because I didn’t travel as often as I did while in Germany, I rarely thought about the qualities that make up the American identity. Worse still, I often dismissed the smallness and insignificance of my region rather than celebrating what makes it interesting and unique. Since spending time in another country, I have been given the opportunity to not only understand another culture, but to better understand my own society. This is important because it is only when we understand our own history, can that we realize the role we play in creating it. I admire Germany’s commitment to sharing and maintaining history as a way of educating people in the future and I am grateful for the insight it has given me into my own culture and identity.   

John Grant Fentum
Aus Arizona, studierte Germanistik und Computerwissenschaften an der LMU München         
Looking back on my time in Germany reminds me of a comment I made to a friend earlier this month: “I may have grown up in America, but I became an adult in Germany.” Although this was not my first year living alone, it was the first time I was truly separate from my family and needed to handle everything on my own. Registering for a visa, my university, a bank account, and insurance all in German put me far outside my comfort zone. Each of these items had a deadline fast approaching by the time I arrived and they plunged me into the deep end of living in another country. Once settled, I was finally able to experience Germany as I had hoped. Meeting friends, attending events, and traveling the country all contributed to the most memorable years in my life.

Like anyone moving to a new country, I was eager to make new friends when I arrived. Luckily for me I was not the only one who had just moved from home and there were plenty of people like me looking for someone to talk to. My technical skills came in handy to meet people. I would often overhear conversations about faulty Internet routers or other computer issues and offer my assistance. By providing tech-support services for the first few months I was able to form a group of friends who have stuck together through our time here. Together we have traveled across Germany and into Austria and attended events like Stustaculum in Munich and Weihnachtsfest in Salzburg. When we were not traveling, we could just sit in the English Gardens and play cards while enjoying the amazing ambiance of Munich.

Although I have done a lot of traveling on my own and with friends, some of the best trips I took were to the VDAC seminars with the other American students. All of us coming together periodically was a great relief. Despite most of us being from different states, we all shared the experience of being overwhelmed in a new country. We all faced the same issues and were able to relate with each other on a deeper level for it. Some of my favorite memories of these trips involved taking the extra step outside my comfort zone and agreeing to some of the more crazy ideas. One such idea was hiking six hours to Steinbach first thing in the morning on a Friday. Having lived in Colorado next to the Rocky Mountains, a long hike is not the strangest thing I could agree too, but the timing to get to the start of the hike was especially difficult for me. The train I needed to take from Munich would leave at 3:00, but buses and U-Bahns did not start running until just before it would leave. As a solution I took the last train to the Hauptbahnhof and simply stayed awake all night to catch the train. Although I was dead tired by the time we arrived at the hostel, I was glad I had done it.

All of these experiences have shaped me over the year and have helped remove me from my cloistered shell. I feel much more mature and sure of myself now than I was when I first arrived and my time in Germany has opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on the world. It will be interesting to see the differences between this trip and future trips I will take to Germany and compare those first few months I had this year. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to live in Munich for a whole year and am grateful for the experiences I had. Although I am eager to see my family and friends back in the United States, I also hope to keep in touch with all the friends I made this year and hope to see them next time I visit.  

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