Saturday, October 24, 2009

As an American who lived in Wuppertal from 1986 through 1990, I came to know the historical setting and modern developments in a SEKTEN NEST

As an American who lived in Wuppertal from 1986 through 1990, I came to know the historical setting and modern developments in what had traditionally been cynically called the “Sektennest” of Germany. That is, long before most of the rest of Germany new what church groups, like the Brethren, the church of Christ, Methodists, etc. were, the people of the Wupper Valley had heard of them. This historical oddity in North Rhine Westphalia is one reason why I had ended up studying there in Wupperta. This was certainly also more directly the special relationship between Bethel College in Kansas, my alma mater, and the educational institutions in Elberfeld and Barmen.

After WWII, students of my alma mater, Bethel College (Kansas), i.e. with their Mennonite traditions anchored in Germany and northern Europe, had reached out to renew ancient connections. It is important to note that most of the ancestors of Mennonites from Kansas were either Ukrainian, Russian, Volga, or East Prussian Germans. Even during- and after WWII this Germanic religious and cultural identity was still deep for the Mennonites of all of North America. In short, like many religious minorities today, for the Mennonite, the separation between a culture, a language and a religion have tied together for generations.

Therefore, starting in 1950, students from Wuppertals Theological Hochschulen and at some neighboring schools in North Rhine Westphalia had been invited free-of-charge annually to attend Bethel College at the Bethel College student’s expense. (This charity continued up through the 1960s.) In those post-war years the Mennonites of North America wanted to re-forge links with post-National Socialist Germany, so they ad collected their own monies to promote an exchange program.

By the time, in autumn 1986, I went to study at the Bergische Universitaet-Gesamthochschule (BUGH) the German language I had already gotten to know many Wuppertal students. (Note: All of these exchange students from Germany to my homeland of Kansas, USA, in the 1980s were of the Northern European physical type—no Turkish, Asian, or other types of students were being sent to America on the continuing exchange program from Wuppertal.)

However, living in the university dormitory across from the BUGH in the 1980s, I was shown a very different multicultural world than I had expected. My view of Germany as a place in the midst of a multi-culturalization phase stems from those years in Wuppertal. On my wing in the dormitory alone, we had three Germans, a Persian, an Arab, a Chinese, an Indonesian, and me (an American). Naturally, we students saw our hall and most of the dormitory as an art ghettoized-view of Germany. However, I felt we were seeing a present and future of Germany that was being shunted in the press and by a government that should have known better.

My Iranian and Chadian colleagues prayed regularly and went to “the mosque”. Likewise, as the Wupper Valley had always been more, like America, i.e. filled with dozens and dozens of different churches in every section of town, I—as a Christian—found the tolerance for other faiths to be initially higher and more tolerant—than when I had lived in Alsace some years earlier in the same decade.

For example, there were many Christian organizations who were interested in introducing immigrants to one another (and to Germans) through regular meeting nights and weekend events—alas these events were mostly targeted at the student population rather than the general population. I noted, however, that many times Muslims, Catholics, and agnostic Chinese were on hand for various programs or festivals. They felt welcome and semi-integrated in such weekly foyers.

On one night a week, I might attend a meeting of Evangelical students who were very active with foreign students in the Wupper area. Another night, I might have a meal down at the Catholic Student Center across town. Foreign students from Ghana and Nigeria invited me along several times.

As I am fairly religious—and fairly serious Bible student—I also hung with the more evangelical Christians, too. However, I attended a variety of fellowships, including the traditional and Reformed Lutherans as well as the Bruedergemeinden--because their historical links to the Mennonites and other smaller protestant groups are strong and fascinating to me as a Christian and European historian.

Meanwhile, the Turkish population of the city and region of the Bergischenland remained enclave-like. This did not mean I had no contact with Turkish peoples. Mostly, my contacts were in the supermarket.

However, in the few main contacts I had, I found the Turkish peoples to be the most-self-absorbed of populations. One could barely draw them out in lengthy dialogues about themselves.

I would likely have had no contact at all with many Turkish Germans at that time in Wuppertal at all, except I had begun to teach English a few hours a week at the AVMZ on the University. These Turkish students were not very serious about attending their English practice labs nor were they strong in English. On the other hand, like many of the Polish students I taught, these more (acculturated) language-wise Germans at university level often spoke better German than most Germans had thought they did—due to preconception issues prevalent in the German society.

Likewise, at times, I tutored some (Referendar) teachers before their Staatsexamen, and I came to learn a lot about the problems that their Turkish students were having in terms of self-esteem and integration in the overall society. I knew that clubs for Turkish-only youth, however, would not promote the integration needed in a society. In short, I could see in the mid-1980s that the entire country of West German was already much more multi-cultural than Germans were letting on. This was straight-jacketing social and school developments left and right.

I, myself, had considered staying and integrating in Germany but too many societal walls had made Germany an unwelcome place for me, too, as an American. First of all, the University in Wuppertal had not recognized my completed BA degree for teaching and history. (It would be over 15 years before a Bachelors degree would be accepted in Wuppertal and many other German universities.) So, completing my students at an MA level or with a Referendar level in Germany would have been prohibitively long and I had only a little outside income.

NOTE: Between 1990( when I left Germany) and 2008, I traveled in over a hundred lands and taught in many different countries. I taught in Japan and the Middle East (Asia) for 9 of those years and in Latin America and North America another decade—even as I worked on a variety of M.A.s in the USA.

RETURN TO A DIFFERENT GERMANY?

In January 2009, I returned to teach at the Dualuniversitaet -Level and Professional School levels in Germany in both Frankfurt and Mannheim. I have since earned two MAs—one in Teaching English and the other in Political Science.

I have moved to Wiesbaden, which is one of the more multi-national cities in Germany with 30% of those in the area of foreign birth. Likewise, my current engineering and English students are of all kinds of backgrounds, i.e.. reflecting the multi-cultural trends of the past decades. For example, at least 1 in 8 of my students are first or second generation Germans from Eastern Europe. Another 1 in 10 are either of Turkish, Western European, Asian or American background (not of traditional German stock).

In any case, I can observe also that the 25 percent of the Hessens in the Rhine-Main region who have not come from more traditional German households are not making it very easily to university nor Beruefschuelen as they should.

Likewise, last spring I happened upon three different classes of older teenagers visiting exhibitions during the Anne Frank months in Wiesbaden. I talked with their teachers to find out why these groups of students were made up entirely of Asian, Middle Eastern, and other non-Northern European faces. Some of the women had head coverings. I was told that they were all in a special one year program for those pupils in German schools who did not do well enough in school to move on with their lives. They had grades so poor that they couldn’t even get work practicum easily coming out of school. They were, therefore, getting an extra year of schooling.

Some of these young people’s German was worse than mine. At that very moment, I began thinking of how I might be able to be a useful trainer, teacher, and consultant of this generation of Germans trying to figure out how to integrate peoples better. I thought:
“I have taught Muslims from at least 20 different countries as well as peoples from some 80 other lands as an English teacher since 1986. Certainly, there is need for someone with my multicultural and multilingual talents.”

When I recently (September 2009) talked with the German Ministry of Labor (Bundesministerium fuer Arbeit), he was told his skills were not needed and they refused to help him find extra work in society as a teacher, trainer, or counselor.

The author of this article, Kevin Anthony Stoda, was born in the tiny town of Sycamore, IL(USA) in 1962. He was certified by the State of Kansas (Topeka) to teach ESL, German, Spanish, American History, World History, and American Government/Political Science.



Notes

Dear Foreign Representatives in INTEGRATIONS OFFICE and Foreign Citizen Advisers of Wiesbaden City Council,
http://eslkevin.wordpress.com/2009/10/14/dear-foreign-representatives-in-integrations-office-and-foreign-citizen-advisers-of-wiesbaden-city-council/

Dear CDU, CSU, FDP, Greens, The Left, SPD, Really Get Good Family Unification Practices at Integration Offices
http://www.opednews.com/populum/diarypage.php?did=14631

Joffe stellt die Frage, “Wie gehen wier in Deutschland mit unseren Einwanderern um, die wir gern als “Zuwander” betrachten, also nicht unbedingt als die Unserigen von morgen?”
http://the-teacher.blogspot.com/2009/10/joffe-stellt-die-frage-wie-gehen-wier.html

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