My Spring ’15 Semester at the U of A

You do you!

My year as an Arizona Wildcat is now over. I look back on so many wonderful adventures I have had. I met some very special people throughout the year from all over the world, and it’s hard to believe the time has flown by so fast. Over the course of the second semester, I grew as a person, in my views and understanding of the world, and I am so grateful the VDAC gave me the opportunity to experience this fantastic time.

This semester I took 4 classes: School and Community Garden Workshop, Navigation and Naval Operations I, Survey of Exceptional Students, and Violence in Schools and Communities. In my garden class we worked together with a local school to build up their school garden. I helped out at Roskruge Bilingual K–8. They had a really motivated class of 6th- through 8th-graders that focused on sustainability and environmental science. I helped create a curriculum around seeds, went on several field trips and got to know the students. I also learned a lot from observing their teacher, Eric, and seeing how he translated the theoretical things we read about in class into the real school environment.

The navigation class was a class held in the ROTC building of the school. I learned all about sailing and navigation on the world seas together with future navy officers and marines. It was good to meet officers and military people in class and have a chance to talk to them. It made me realize that they are people just like you and me and that the U.S. puts a lot of resources into them to train them well. It gave me a new perspective towards the increasingly negative media reports, especially about American soldiers.

My most inspiring class this whole year was my Exceptional Students class. The teacher was a veteran in teaching at several schools for years, but also a war and Peace Corps vet. He had so much experience about life in general, and it was great to learn from him. The class focused on students with special needs. In Germany, these students are just now being integrated into the general school system, and this is happening with a lot of bias and concerns.
In the U.S. they have been integrated for a long time. Teachers must make it possible for students to achieve in the classroom. We watched a video in that class that addressed a specific concern I could never wrap my head around in discussions back home: How is it fair to all students to make materials easier and more accessible, to give more time, help, etc., just for some? The video showed that fairness is really not about giving everyone the same things, but giving everyone the same chance and starting point to be equally successful. So if that means some students need to learn in a slightly modified way, but in the end they come out as a successful student, it’s very worth it to invest in this. People with disabilities shouldn’t be hidden; everyone can benefit from them learning in a realistic environment. I am glad I took that class because, despite it finally becoming a reality in Germany, universities leave us, the teachers, wholly unprepared for this.

The Violence in Schools and Communities class I took was also very helpful for my future as a teacher. We learned about an array of different crises that can happen in a school. Natural disasters, gangs, bullying, death of a student’s parent, suicide, etc., were all topics we discussed. Even though these aren’t day-to-day incidents, I feel more prepared than before to face them if I ever have to.
Of course I also taught German again. This time I taught 102 and got to continue with some of my old students while also getting to know some amazing new kids. We had a lot of fun this semester, even though everyone struggled a bit with the accusative and dative. Some of these kids went on to study abroad in Germany over the summer to finish up 201 & 202. I drove down to Leipzig to meet them and see how they are doing, and it was a great reunion. Some of them already feel like friends now. I am very thankful for the things they taught me about being a good teacher.
Besides my classes, I got to travel to Hawaii with my friends during spring break. We went exploring, hiking up and into a volcano, snorkeling, and swimming. We saw some sea turtles and played in the huge waves on the north shore of O‘ahu. It was a good break from all the stress of the semester. Besides that, I did a lot of fun things in Tucson: I hiked to Seven Falls and jumped into the ice-cold water there in January; I went caving in Peppersauce Cave (we took glow sticks along); I had a friend from the VDAC who was staying in Georgia visit – we hiked to Romero Pools and saw adorable squirrels, and we also visited the Pima County Air and Space Museum.

To finish up the year, I took a family road trip. We saw the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Zion National Park, Arches National Park, the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, Seattle and Olympic National Park, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, and San Diego. It was an amazing trip that involved a lot of hiking and camping and seeing beautiful views and cute wildlife. A tip for future students, though: Don’t leave your valuables and laptop in the car in a garage in L.A. to look at the walk of fame real quick and then miss your flight home because you go to the police. Yeah, that happened. New short-notice flights are really expensive. Also back up all your pictures a million times. It still makes me sad – a bad end to an otherwise wonderful trip.

Finally, I want to share one mindset I have come to cherish a lot in Tucson: You do you! People often said this at the U of A, and I think it’s a very positive and happy mindset. Basically, it tells us all to do what makes us happy and not to think about what others may think and say about it. If you love to sing, but you don’t have a great voice  – heck, do it anyway! If you want to wear clothes that don’t match – you do you! Do what makes you happy because in the end that’s all that counts in life. There are so many obstacles we all face; we shouldn’t put each other down for things that are a little “different” or “weird” or whatever. If it’s not harming anybody, who are you to rain on somebody’s parade?
In Germany, especially in the north, we are all very quick to grumble about things: the weather, the people, this and that. When I came back, my friends kept telling me I shouldn’t wear yoga pants outside the house because that’s just not a proper look.