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“Not what we think of as a typical American?

I have to say, once again, that I have been very fortunate in my placement with this particular host family. We inherently have so much in common that it has been a relatively painless, even pleasurable, transition into their household.

We had our choir concert last night and, while no performance is “perfect? and we certainly had more than a few snafus, the evening was quite enjoyable. I’m looking forward to performing again with the group next weekend – where I’ve also been asked to sing a few solos in the concert.

After the concert, the family relaxed and chatted for a bit before settling down to Abendbrot – a lighter, late evening meal. I always enjoy these times because they tend to lead to the most interesting conversations – sometimes about music and art, sometimes about politics and education, or sometimes just about funny ways of saying things in our respective languages. Tonight, we started with ballroom dancing, crossed through karaoke, sports, and Nintendo Wii, and ended up with cultural miscommunications about the issues of pride and achievement in the public education system. Needless to say, it was a good Abendbrot! I love being around such people – those who converse simply for the pleasure of exchanging ideas and opinions. Even when points of view differ, there is not a need to prove intellectual superiority, but rather an appreciation of opposing viewpoints as a means to better inform one’s own position. Love it…love it…love it!!!!

At the end of the conversation, my host father said, “I just have to tell you something. I am very happy to have you here because you are not what we think of when we think of the typical American. It is good for us to have to you here because we sometimes have a different view of Americans.? Enough said. My only response was to thank him sincerely for what I consider to be a very nice compliment.

Dear Reader, after reading the above statement, please do not assume that I have any negative or unpatriotic feelings towards my native land. Know, instead, that my experiences abroad have made me painfully aware of the way America and its citizens are portrayed in the foreign media – and not without justification in certain cases. I am cognizant of the stereotypes, and am honored to be able to represent not only an atypical version of the caricatured American, but hopefully a highly positive one as well. Indeed, that is my heartfelt wish in traveling abroad – to improve my understanding of other cultures and to help others do the same.

Back to the evening’s conversation, though. My host father did help me to understand something new about the German educational system. That is this: that with a grading system that goes from points 1 to 6, including pluses and minuses, a score of three is considered “average? AND, furthermore, “average? is not a bad thing. I think that is a fairly strong contrast with the American educational system as I know it. While “C? is listed as “average? on the report card, we tend to have a rather negative connotation of a “C? grade and of the word “average? in general. It is not really a positive life goal for most students to aim towards C grades. In fact, it is a personal characteristic of our country’s current President that is often used when describing him in either a humorous or unfavorable light. But, according to my host father, Germans understand Gaussian distribution and the idea that the vast majority of the world fall very near that “average? level of ability. It is neither something to be desired nor avoided; it simply is the reality of things. Top performers are given due credit, but average achievers are in no way penalized for their “average? label. On the contrary, there is a certain level of respect attached to it.

I will have to reflect on this new concept a bit more and also allow it to color my perspective a bit more when observing classes at the elementary school. I think that, when I witnessed a student getting a score of three in class (and having that score mentioned publicly in front of all the other pupils), I felt embarrassed for that student. Yet, the embarrassment was probably all mine and not felt by anyone else in the room. While I still don’t see all the benefits of this publicly competitive environment, I can also recognize the severe limitations of the current American doctrine of positive reinforcement. Perhaps the ideal solution lies somewhere in the middle.


Hi Noelle- I am putting up occasional postings of your blog on the CGES board, and I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy reading it. Learning about the cultural differences is so interesting, and Sabine and I end up discussing them later. Thanks for keeping my work day interesting!