Andrea Pomerance '02

 

Culture Crossing

%336%left%About a year after receiving a grant from the German-American Fulbright Commission to teach English in the small eastern German town of Rathenow, Andrea Pomerance '02 missed only one thing about the States: hearing Southern accents like her own.

But fortunately for the young friends that the Tennessean made at her German high school, that was nowhere near enough to send her packing.

Pomerance spent the 2002-03 school year working as a teaching assistant (stipend, 700 euros a month) at Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn Gymnasium, a school for grades 5-12 in Rathenow, 45 minutes east of Berlin. The grant program is funded by the U.S. and German governments and serves to promote education through cross-cultural exchange.

To say Pomerance's experience overseas was cross-cultural, though, might be an understatement. In one class exercise Pomerance designed, for example, she drew a stereotypical German and instructed her students to sketch their image of an average American.

"I had drawn the stereotype of a German: tight black jeans, beer in hand, watching football [European soccer]," Pomerance recalled. "I put it on an overhead projector and said I wanted them to draw theirs. Basically what I got was, 'everyone eats McDonald's, people sit on the couch and watch TV, and they drive everywhere.'"

After thunderous laughter, the budding teacher and her students discussed both misconceptions. "Basically I'm just teaching them to try to get past these stereotypes," she said.

%337%right%The exercise was part of Pomerance's favorite task as an English-language teaching assistant: her meetings with about 10 sixth graders every weekend to hone speaking skills and discuss American culture. She also assisted German teachers in class, taught lessons and conducted various activities such as English language games with her students.

In the cultural emphasis of her entrée into teaching, Pomerance witnessed the transcendent power of reciprocation. In class one spring day, her pupils asked her when she had last really celebrated Easter. She said it had been five years. They decided it was time she had a real Easter again. The next day, she said, "each had hidden chocolate and eggs around the classroom. Some had made bread and hidden it. That was one of the best days. You do stuff for them, but it's nice to have something in return like that."

When she took her first German language class her freshman year at Colby, Pomerance's only goal was to fulfill her language requirement. A Jan Plan trip, a junior year in Munich and several courses later, she had focused her study on the country. Specifically, Pomerance's work centered on the divide between the former East and West Germany, united in 1989 but still largely unable to bridge gaping socioeconomic and cultural divides.

The Fulbright grant allowed Pomerance to experience firsthand the depressed economy and post-Communist climate of the formerly East German Rathenow, a microcosm of what she'd studied at Colby. The town's unemployment skyrocketed after the Berlin Wall was destroyed, as graduates from high schools like hers traveled straight to western Germany and Berlin, where jobs were more plentiful.

When her grant ended in June, Pomerance found herself among the scores of people moving from eastern Germany to look for a job in Berlin. She persevered and landed a position as academic coordinator at the European College of Liberal Arts.

In addition to the worldly knowledge the recent graduate acquired abroad, Pomerance learned something else in Germany that shattered the widely accepted notion that Waterville, Maine, is the coldest place on Earth: Rathenow was so cold, she says, it made Waterville feel like Boca Raton.

But at least she had four years in Maine to prepare: "I'm from Tennessee. If I'd come straight [here], it would have been a major shock." ,Braxton Williams '99