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Summer Freiburg Program rewarding

Students participating in the Summer Freiburg Program pose in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, June 12, 2012.

Students participating in the Summer Freiburg Program pose in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, June 12, 2012.

Participating in Stetson University’s Summer Freiburg Program was one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career. You don’t have to major or minor in German to take part in a program that combines academically rigorous study with several field trips and group excursions. Most importantly, we gained invaluable insight into German cultural and everyday life.

Whether just walking through downtown Freiburg, taking the local train to the Black Forest, spending an afternoon in Basel, Switzerland or Strasbourg, France, or crossing borders into other European countries on long weekends, you can learn much about how people in other cultures organize their daily lives and deal with current social and political questions. Our minds were opened to questions of environmental sustainability, consumer culture, educational opportunities, and of how Germans deal with their most recent history and much more. Germany is one of the most culturally rich nations with a wealth of historical and religious landmarks, art, music and theater, philosophy, literature and architecture. Freiburg itself is not only home to the only cathedral finished in the Middle Ages, but also known as the environmental capital of Germany where bicycles and pedestrians outnumber cars by far in downtown.

The educational experience provided by the Summer Freiburg Program is outstanding. Students take two courses taught by Stetson professors. Knowledge of German is not a prerequisite; nevertheless students can learn some German phrases and expressions as they engage with native speakers at the University of Education (Pädagogische Hochschule) where the program’s courses take place. Every class session had a purpose and provided insight into our cultural experiences. The majority of instructional time was spent in productive class discussions that were prompted by either a film, literary or other cultural text, or an experience a class member shared.

“The program seeks a solid balance between academic rigor and ‘hands-on’ cultural learning,” said Stetson German Professor Elisabeth Poeter, director of the SFP. “Students should be able to relate what they’ve studied and discussed in class to what they experience and observe in their immediate surroundings. By doing so, they can engage in intercultural comparisons that highlight similarities between students’ own culture and that of the foreign country while at the same time, become aware of notable differences.”

One of the highlights of the Summer Freiburg Program is the five-day trip to Berlin, the capital of Germany, and Weimar, the so-called “cultural capital.” This excursion provides a unique opportunity to gain better understanding of Germany before and after re-unification.

In Berlin, we saw the Reichstag, home of the German parliament, visited several museums on the Museumsinsel, explored Humboldt Universität, birthplace of classical liberal arts education and walked through the famous Alexanderplatz, the center of East Berlin and the location of the peaceful demonstrations leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Remnants of the formerly divided city are noticeable everywhere, bringing to life much of what we may have encountered in textbooks on German language, history and culture in films or a novel. With its myriad of coffee and teashops, Weimar is one of the most enchanting places in Germany.

We visited Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s home, the Anna Amalia Library, the archives of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and the famous statue of Goethe and Schiller in front of the Weimar Theatre that has made history since German classicism. We attended a cutting-edge production of “The Coronation of Poppea” by Monteverdi, staged in the former power plant of Weimar, a most memorable experience.

The contradictions in German political and cultural history came to life as we visited the infamous Stasi prison in Hohenschönhausen (Secret Service of the former GDR) in Berlin and the concentration camp of Buchenwald near Weimar. The depth of academic and cultural learning in this five-week program was truly unique. Students who really embrace what the program offers return with greater awareness of the cultural richness of Germany and Europe and have made a significant step towards becoming a citizen of the world.

By students Shannon Abelson ’13 and Nikki Holtzer ‘14

PLEASE NOTE: Because space is limited for the summer 2013 SFP program, students interested in participating should contact Dr. Poeter at epoeter@stetson.edu, or contact Stetson’s World: International Learning Office at studyabroad@stetson.edu for more information.

Students can also learn more about their study abroad options and community engagement opportunities, including more information about the Summer Freiburg Program, by attending Stetson’s Study Abroad and Community Partner Fair on Thursday, Jan. 31, from 11 a.m. -2 p.m. at the CUB Circle.