A German Visits

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I spent a few hours yesterday welcoming the first day of spring break with Charlotte Hartman (pictured with me above) and her Hanover exchange friend Abby, who is studying at a public school in Wichita, Kansas for the year. Charlotte, who too is from Hanover Germany, spent last year studying at Houston Christian. She was clearly one of my top students, earning not only a number of my awards, but countless awards from other departments. The three of us dined at Katz’s for lunch over French toast for Charlotte, a meatball sandwich for Abby, and a Philly steak sandwich for me. I watched our conversation migrate from topic to topic. I found it interesting that some Germans view America’s fixture on religious ideology in a pejorative way. Although we are no theocracy, I do know that many Europeans see America as being fundamentally puritanical. Paradoxically, this view has shaped America as a nation state involved in complicit acts. This image is shaped more by our current foreign policy than our domestic attitudes.  A few years ago I recall The Economist ridiculing Americans for re-electing “W” on the notion of religious values, especially with the mess in Iraq; it is true that the gay card was heavily played by Republicans in the ’04 campaign to create fear in the minds of religious conservatives.   

As always with my many conversations with Charlotte, I learned a great deal about the conflation of German ideological norms and structural behavior through the lens of an astute teenage student. The unfortunate reality for many American students is that they will not have the opportunity to study with students of an international flavor; I realize there are countless exchange student programs in existence – – but many of these programs are reserved for affluent suburban public schools and well endowed private schools. I hope to encourage the headmaster at Houston Christian to work with faculty members and families on building an exchange program; however, I suspect this will be a very difficult challenge. For obvious reasons, residential schools have been able to take advantage of this the most.

When I was a high school student attending a private school in Montgomery, Alabama, I enjoyed the opportunity of having classmates from Germany and Switzerland; we became close friends spending much of our time at pizza parlors and in the home of my best friend Lori Kwater. It was this friendship that allowed us to talk about race in America and Europe; we addressed the complexities of interracial relationships in the post Jim Crow South as well as in post Nazis Germany. My conversation with Charlotte and Abby reminded me of my past and how important it is for American students to forge international friendships.

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5 thoughts on “A German Visits

  1. This is part of why I love blogging – I have readers all over the place – a few overseas, even – and they bring with them a perspective that I can’t get in my mostly white, mostly affluent corner of New England.

  2. Carson,

    At my very diverse Houston public school, we have a number of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, gays, conservative, liberal, etc type of students. Even with this diversity, I have found that by having international students adds a different dimension in my courses. Having students who are Indian American and far East Asian American is not the same as having a student from those places study on your campus.

  3. I lament the fact that there is not a larger international student contingent at my present place of employ. I remember at my garden variety public high school, local families hosted several international students. During my junior and senior years, there were students from Mexico, (West) Germany, France, Spain and Norway. They provided a perspective that allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for the world beyond my homogeneous suburban community.

  4. I did not know you went to a private school while in high school. I thought you were public school all of the way.

  5. ah yes!!! the days of the “lunch bunch”!!! good times, good times:) but you forgot sultan! or was he before your time? he was from saudi arabia and spent a year with us while his dad was in training on one of the military bases in town. he provided us a very unique perspective on life. he challenged our “that’s a given” thoughts”on many subjects then and still gives me insight as i consider many current issues today…. sultan put a real face to the different thought processes of the musilm and christian worlds.

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