I then collected and consolidated their questions into categories. It was interesting to me the types of questions that the students asked. Some of their questions were the standard type touching on food, daily life, education, religion, vocabulary/dialect, and cultural comparisons with the United States. However, some of their questions made me think!
Surprising Question #1. Do they sing everything?
This question at first seems like silliness at work in the classroom (which I don't mind AT ALL), but I think that the kernel of truth here is about stereotypes. Truth be told, when I think of Austria, I conjure up a picture of Julie Andrews twirling around in the Alps singing soprano like an angel. Isn't it amazing how one Hollywood musical can capture our minds?
My desire to experience more of Austrian culture and life was my whole impetus for writing this grant proposal in the first place. I figured if I, the German teacher and local expert on German culture, knew so little about Austria, which is a German-speaking country as well, then certainly my students were not receiving enough education on it either. Would a Spanish teacher only teach about Spain or a French teacher only about France? Hopefully not. I need to learn and experience more of the German-speaking world, so that my students can have a richer learning experience in my classroom.
The challenge for me is then to figure how to bring Austria to my students so as to bridge their preconceptions with new experiences and information.
Surprising Question #2: Is the sky blue?
I remember my very first trip to Germany as a undergrad, and as I excitedly pressed my face against the plane window as we landed, I felt so .... disappointed. Skyscrapers? Electrical towers? Glass and metal buildings? Where was the Germany I had dreamed of? I craved gingerbread houses, villagers strolling around wearing dirndls and lederhosen, and cobblestone streets! The amazing thing about Europe for me is that the very old and the very new coexist. You can easily see a building from 1500 right next to another built just last week, or a dude wearing lederhosen and a baseball cap walking down a cobblestone street while checking his email on his Smartphone.
Photo: Munich, June 2013
I think that as a first-time traveler outside of the US, I expected things to be so different that I hadn't considered the fact that the same sun shines on Germany that shines on the US. So to answer my student's question prematurely, yes, the sky is blue in Austria. For my students who largely lack the personal experience to verify this statement, it is worth the question, and I'm grateful that they asked it.
My challenge here is to share with them my experiences from the big to the small, in the hopes that they will be inspired to go and see the world for themselves.
During my time in Austria I will keep my students' questions in my mind as I go through the seminar. Wish me luck to answer them all!