Tag Archives: Germany

5 Countries to Invade (or Emulate) for Ideas

February 18th, 2016

I recently saw the new Michael Moore film “Where to Invade Next,” http://wheretoinvadenext.com and I can only say that here in the U.S. we have a lot to learn from our friends in Europe and even in North Africa. Moore takes us on a journey to Italy, Finland, France, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Iceland, and Tunisia and highlights one aspect of their civil society and its myriad of benefits. His mission in the film is to “invade” these countries not for their natural resources or to overthrow governments to spread democracy but to bring home to the U.S. one positive attribute. In all his encounters, those he interviewed, regardless of country, reminded him that they used the U.S. (e.g. our Constitution, Civil Rights Movement, etc.) as their model to emulate and perfect.

Since this is an education blog, I’m going to focus on those countries Moore visited to highlight the great strides they’ve made in cultivating their education system from curriculum, teaching methodology, assessments, to school meals.

Finland
finland

Moore visited Finland where the country decided to overhaul its entire pre-K through high school public education after rating low on world education rankings in the mid 1990’s. Since then they have done away with testing, or standardized testing as we are so familiar with here in the U.S., scrapped homework and reduced classroom hours. Children get more time to socialize and play at home and with friends. Public schools throughout Finland receive equal funding and enjoy the same resources so children of different neighborhoods benefit from the same quality education and socialize and integrate with each other despite their socioeconomic backgrounds. It was also interesting to see that when Finns get their paychecks they receive a detailed breakdown of exactly where their taxes are going. Would we react differently if we saw that 56% of our taxes are directed toward military and defense instead of education and other social services?

Moore’s takeaway from Finland: Do away with the standardized tests and reduce homework and make teaching fun and engaging. And, include a detailed breakdown of exactly what percentage of taxes support which government programs!

France
France

The next country on Moore’s itinerary was France where he visited school lunchrooms to witness at firsthand what French children eat.  What he found was astounding. School chefs meeting with Ministry of Education-approved nutritionists to plan the monthly menus, refrigerators stocked with fresh produce, including varieties of cheeses and sit down lunches where children were served four course meals. You may be thinking that he had visited a private school. No, these were public schools, some in poorer neighborhoods and some in more affluent, but the one thing they had in common was healthy food, prepared with great attention to the ingredients to ensure the children received a balanced nutritious meal. Lunch was served on china, where children sat at dining tables covered with table cloth and were served by a member of the kitchen staff. They were not lining up cafeteria style with trays in hand and having mystery meat plopped on plastic plates. Children even helped serve each other and ate their meals using proper silverware: knives and forks. The point was not only healthy eating, but learning table etiquette and the ability to sit alongside fellow classmates and sharing a meal. In fact, these children were sharing their desserts and having conversations! And the beverage served? Water! Yes, water. No sugary sodas or artificially sweetened drinks. Plain, delicious, water. By the way, he also demonstrated how the cost to have healthy freshly prepared meals on site for the children at schools in fact cost far less than the mass produced nutritious deprived lunches at our school cafeterias. Moore also sat in a sex education class and when he asked the teacher and the students if there were also taught abstinence as is the case in U.S. schools, they looked at him in bewilderment. The teacher said studies show that including sex ed. classes in schools reduce teen pregnancies.

Moore’s takeaway from France: Incorporate a menu of healthy nutritious meals at our public schools using the French system as a model, though minus the scallops and coq au vin. And, worth returning sex ed. classes in our school curriculum that provide students honest and uncensored information.

Slovenia
Slovenia

Next was Slovenia where Moore interviewed students attending the University of Ljubljana where both domestic and international students benefit from free education. He spoke with two American students who had chosen to study there since they couldn’t afford the high cost of U.S. higher education. One student even said that she felt Slovenia’s higher education was by far more superior compared to U.S. undergraduate studies which she thought was more on a par to the country’s high schools. When Slovenia’s government had considered charging tuition, Slovenian students protested against it and they were so effective that they succeeded in having the political party in charge step down. When tuition goes up in the U.S. we seldom see students protesting and demanding any change.

Moore’s takeaway from Slovenia: Free higher education means access to a larger population of students and a graduating class unburdened by student loans and debt.

Germany
Germany

In Germany, besides meeting with worker’s unions where it is a law that workers have representation on the Boards of companies and any worker suffering from stress with a doctor’s note receives a two-week company-paid stay at a spa to rest and recuperate, Moore also visited a public school.  He sat in on a class where the students were taught about the atrocities committed by Germany during WWII under Hitler’s leadership. The students weren’t taught a simplistic view of what happened. There were no revisionist interpretations of history, no excuses or admonitions that since they weren’t alive then they are not required to assume responsibility. He also showed how Germany is acknowledging its past by commemorating those who were taken from their homes and sent to concentration camps with gold plaques bearing their names and signs throughout streets in towns and cities in the country.  It was a stunning look at how Germany is not trying to forget or ignore its past actions.

Moore’s takeaway from Germany: One lesson Moore wishes the U.S. to adopt is a full recognition of its treatment of the indigenous Native Americans and its use of African slaves in building its infrastructure. If our children are taught the facts without any censorship or sanitizing, then there most likely will be a deeper understanding of our country’s history and a greater sense of accountability. Another takeaway is protecting our unions and giving the workers a seat on the Boards of U.S. companies. A 2-week paid spa retreat isn’t a bad idea either!

Tunisia
Tunisia

Although Moore’s focus on visiting Tunisia was not related to its education system, I still think it’s worth sharing since it has much to do with the topic of women’s equal rights in a country that in 2011 experienced a revolution in what we’ve got to know as the start of the Arab Spring, Tunisia has been able to bring about sweeping changes that have elevated the role of women in society by including in its constitution a bill of rights for women. In Tunisia women have full rights concerning their reproductive systems, can run for political office can serve in parliament, and share the same rights and privileges as men. A Tunisian female journalist had a few poignant words of advice for Moore and I’m paraphrasing: America is very lucky to be a strong country but it is very ignorant of others in the world, while other people of the world know about America, its politics, its music, literature, art, film, fashion, and even speak its language, Americans don’t know and don’t seem to want or care about the rest of the world. Tunisia, she said, is small, but it too has a rich history. She reminded us that it was the U.S. that invented the best technology ever: the Internet.  She asked that we use this valuable resource, research, read, and learn about the rest of the world and stop watching mindless shows like the Kardashians.

Moore’s takeaway from Tunisia: Be curious and look outside and beyond our four walls.

The sign of an evolving and advanced society is not pulling down the shutters and closing our eyes, minds and hearts to the outside world. It’s also not looking at everyone that talks or dresses funny, practices a different religion, or eats food that look strange to us, as a threat and with fear but to be curious, ask questions, research, engage, have conversations, learn another language, experiment with food and listen to music and news from other parts of the world, watch their films and TV shows and see for our self that we are not all that different.

My takeaway from this film besides all those shared by Moore, was that everyone he met, from young children in schools in Finland, to the women in Tunisia, spoke English. Many spoke three or four languages fluently. Language, my friends, and knowledge of more than our own, is how we can connect and stay connected with our neighbors, community, and the world. We need to make the learning of a foreign language a core component of our school curriculum, consider incorporating study abroad as a required component in our undergraduate programs, and encourage students to travel and/or join the Peace Corps on graduation. These are just a few examples of how we can inspire our young to become exemplary citizens of the U.S. and the ambassadors to the world.

Frustrated
Frustrated Evaluator

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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A (frustrated) American student in Germany

February 12th, 2016

VF01

In this week’s blog, our study abroad student, Clayton Winston Johans, continues sharing his experience and frustration as he tries to get accepted into a university in Germany.

Keine Worte

After much delay I finally received the news I didn’t want to hear. Yes, the infamous quote of “No we have not received your transcripts” echoed from the loudspeaker on my cell phone.  If you are an international student or are planning to be these are words of dread. I reassured the admissions representative that over a week and half ago I received confirmation of receiving my transcripts with a signature of receipt by a school official. I even explained that I had emailed this confirmation but of course had not heard back any response. After a quick and succinct relay of questions and answers from the admissions office who has been handling my file at the school, I was instructed to resend my email that had the aforementioned confirmation. That night I double checked the emails I had sent and of course I was in the right and had provided all the accurate information to the school admissions office. A week goes by and no response addressing my resent confirmation email. I decided best to speak to the person in charge, so I called and was confronted with a messaging service to which I left two voice messages regarding my case. Another week starts to pass me by and I am all the while wondering as to why I am not getting a simple response to my email; even an acknowledgement of the communication would have calmed my nerves.

I wait another day and I call the international student office, whose staff has been completely helpful during this entire procedure and they explained that they will contact the individual responsible for school admission directly and that I would hear back from them the following day. At this point I thought, I’ve heard this all before, so long for my adventure, my future European education was coming to a halt even before it started, as my expectations were completely shattered.

The following night, I was headed to sleep and decided to check my emails once more. Lo and behold an email had been sent to me, not in the evening of course but had arrived in the inbox midday and somehow had been overlooked. Words of relief! “We have in fact received your emails and you will be contacted for an interview by our staff once the professors have reviewed your application and academic records.” (At this particular university the professors of the desired department gather and review the student’s records together and request a time from the future student to present to them their portfolio). I am now to wait further for the anticipated date to which I shall finally have my acceptance answer.

I have to say this admissions procedure is like climbing a ladder, every other rung breaks from under you but you are still able to move forward. Strange analogy I know, but this is a strange process to a stranger in a strange land.

That’s all for now, until next time!

Clayton

Clayton Winston Johans

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Bier, Buchs, and Bureaucracy: The journey of an American International student in Germany

12/17/15

Germany_121715

Guten Morgen meine freunds!

It has been a week and a day since I arrived in the Old World and my experience thus far has definitely been an interesting one.

Jet lag is still taking its toll, but slowly and surely I’m adjusting. The weather here is surprisingly pleasant, no thanks to rising global temperatures. Albeit, it is nice to arrive in a place in which winter has usually an oppressively bitter hold on daily life. But on average, the sun is out and there is no sign of snow or ice anywhere. People are out and about riding bikes or walking to work.

Over the course of the week, I have seen several refugee families and many refugee housing developments; usually reissued shipping containers for functional modular construction which are sprouting all around the city. Cool thing is, the German government wants integration, so they don’t make a “ghetto” and instead place all of the refugees in one or two parts of the city. The refugee housing developments are interspersed so as to minimize segregation. Seeing this really puts things in perspective for me. Here I am, a white American male, not bringing with me any heart-held entitlement but with the privilege and choice to immigrate to this country just because I want to better my education. I find myself stressing over the ordeals of travel and applying online to a school and taking for granted my situation. But it all goes away when you see how other people struggle just to live, and how people reach out to help one another in times of incredible crisis.

The other day I rode my bike along the river for about 15 minutes to the art school to which I am applying. I had been having trouble online with my application form, and found that a technical error was hindering my application process so I thought it best to consult a school official on the matter. Once inside the remodeled industrial harbor side warehouse that now housed the education institution, I had to figure out who the heck I was supposed to speak with in regards to several questions I had and my troubles with the online error. When I found the International Student Office, I was able to speak with an extremely helpful representative who informed me what to do and whom to speak with. I was referred to the school’s Registrar’s Office. Imagine that! A school problem? Go to the school Registrar. Why didn’t I think of this?! I must have been so flustered by the process itself that it slipped my mind. So I thanked and said farewell to the International Student Officer, took the elevator to the 3rd floor and walked down the hall to the Registrar’s office. Of course, the Registrar wasn’t in her office until 15:00 PM (3:00pm) that day and at the moment it was 11:30.  I took the phone number down and I rode home with intent to call and get my answers over the telephone.

When I got home from the school I called the registrar. I’ve never heard of such a Registrar in the US education system who tackles so many student and personal issues. Obviously there is a different understanding in both the job description and probably definition of “Registrar” here in Germany as opposed to the US. I say this because the registrar helped me with everything. I was all questions and she was all answers.

Now that my application error has been cleared up, I have successfully submitted my application and await an acceptance notice from the school. Once I received word that my application has been processed, I will have to have my transcripts from the US sent to school in Germany. As this procedure continues, I marvel at how lax it all seems to be. I have come here with the American mind set of “Let’s get everything done quickly and promptly” so as to ensure I get a spot in the semester come 2016. My hasty-anxious mindset has been repeatedly confronted and suppressed by a more relaxed and calm outlook presented by all of the school officials I have henceforth interacted with. It’s quite amazing, and as time goes on I think it’s this slow, “everything in time and in its place if you will,” attitude that is indicative of the surrounding cultural aura.

After submitting the application, I received an automatic reply thanking me for my interest and my time invested in the application process and an assurance that I will be contacted by school officials on the status of my application as soon as possible.

Sigh of relief.

All I am waiting for now is for the print shop to finish printing my some images for my portfolio and a response from the school before the end of the month.

At this point I think I it is safe to say that I am slowly starting to embrace this calm and stable mindset when it comes to handling the many more trials to come in my education adventures.

That’s all for now folks,

Bis Bald!

Clayton

Clayton Winston Johans

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Free Education in Germany: Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions

October 9th, 2014

Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel with German Students
Photo credit: AP/Michael Probst

Germany recently announced tuition free higher education across the country for its citizens and international students attending state/public institutions. This news has stirred many here in the U.S. who resorted to posting comments and rants on various social media platforms mocking Germany for its free higher education policy. Dubious and untrusting of anything that is “free,” many posted forecasts of a dark future for any country embarking on the same path; from the loss of academic freedom, to indoctrination, and higher taxes positioning government in charge of dictating curriculum.

Here is a sampling of the comments I gleaned from various online blogs covering Germany’s news:

“Nothing is free. The taxpayers will foot the bill and pay higher taxes because of it. Once tax dollars start paying for college tuition, then the government can start dictating what is taught, and what can’t be taught. I really hope this works out for Germany, but I’m having serious doubts that it will.”

“Actually in the U.S. professors have tons of choice in what they can teach. Whether you believe it or not now, after “free” college is established indoctrination will be a matter of course.”

“I agree with you. Nothing is free and the government dictating what is taught is not an education, it’s a propaganda machine. In addition, deciding lifestyles for your citizens at 14 years of age…no thank you! I’ll pay for my own education!”

Lest we have forgotten, higher education in the U.S., though not 100% free, until the mid-1970’s was very affordable and accessible. The GI Bill and federal grants helped students with the cost of tuition without being burdened with student loan debts on graduation. However, double-digit inflation, an oil embargo, and a sluggish economy replaced federal grants (main source of funding for students from both poor and middle-class households) with private loans. You can read more on this in a blog I wrote on the High Cost of Higher Education.

Let us dispel myths, paranoia and inaccuracies and instead of mocking tuition free education, learn a few facts on the German higher education system:

• About 1.98 million students are currently studying at German institutions of higher education. Almost half of them (48%) are women.

• A total of 376 higher education institutions offer study programs, including 102 universities, 170 universities of applied sciences and 69 private colleges. In recent years, the number of foreign students has significantly increased.

• The German higher education system has many different types of institutions offering diversity to students to select the best course for their needs. Students interested in education with more emphasis on practical knowledge will pursue studies at a university of applied sciences; those interested in theoretical research, attend a university and so forth.

• In total, there are approximately 9,500 different undergraduate programs and a further 6,800 postgraduate degree programs on offer at higher education institutions throughout Germany.

• Due to the federal system in Germany, responsibility for education, including higher education, lies entirely with the individual federal states. The states are responsible for the basic funding and organization of higher education institutions. Each state has its own laws governing higher education. Therefore, the actual structure and organization of the various systems of higher education may differ from state to state.

• Higher education institutions in Germany have a certain degree of autonomy in matters concerning organization and any academic issues. In the last two decades this autonomy has been increasingly broadened to include issues related to human resources and budget control.

It doesn’t appear that institutions of higher education in Germany have had their autonomy usurped by their government. Or, higher taxes have lessened opportunities for its citizens and international students to pursue higher education. In fact, it is the contrary.

We are misdirected if we believe it is government that will meddle in our institutions of higher education. We need to be more concerned about corporate influences and private funds from the likes of the conservative billionaire industrialists, who pledge to donate large sums to publicly funded universities on the condition that they are given the right to interfere in faculty hiring to influence curriculum and promote programs that are in line with their political and economic agenda.

A heated debate is currently underway in Colorado where high school students are protesting a revision in their Advanced Placement History curriculum proposed by a few conservative members of the School Board. The students are demanding to be taught history that in their words is not “white-washed” while the School Board is digging its heels to have the curriculum revised so that the history taught is from the American perspective. According to a report: “The elective course has been criticized by the Republican National Committee and the Texas State Board of Education, which has told teachers not to teach according to the course’s new framework. Being taught for the first time this year, it gives greater attention to the history of North America and its native people before colonization and their clashes with Europeans, but critics say it downplays the settlers’ success in establishing a new nation.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/02/colorado-school-board-history_n_5924898.html

The past and recent events prove one thing; that we need to be equally concerned at the power and influence private donors and political partisan groups wield on our education system as much as our fear of government meddling and indoctrination.

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO, ACEI

ACEI

http://www.acei-global.org

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Germany: Dealing with Migration and Social Integration

January 30th, 2014

German flag

When I research on the Internet, I can easily fall down a few rabbit holes if I am not careful. This time, I was looking for successful, real-world examples of educational and social programs in place for the enormous immigrant and migratory populations here in the EU, specifically focusing on students.

Attempting to understand the dense, and multi-layered issues facing migrant and immigrant children, their parents and teachers, is no simple task. So I decided to start the easy way–– by speaking with a friend here in Germany, who teaches 16 year olds, both German Language and Art. She instantly began to tell me about her “teacher burnout,” which is a growing syndrome here. She had a long list of issues she felt contributed to her extreme level of stress, but the most recent and disturbing one in her many years of teaching, was the constant socio-cultural walls she now runs up against on a daily basis, due to the extreme diversity of her immigrant students. In her class there are; German, Turkish, Kurdish, (that’s right––they fight over here too, in various school gangs), Syrian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Scottish, and kids from the Dominican Republic.

“Teaching German is so hard…” she said.

“Why?” What do you mean, you’re German!” I said.

“No, I mean––I choose to use literature as a multi-level vehicle––literature which conveys an important message, or enlightens them, wakes them up, and inspires them. But most of them don’t understand the content of the story itself…” She said.

“So the language is too difficult for them and it gets in the way?” I asked

“No, no…they have totally different cultural references, and cannot in any way understand or relate to a story chronicling the disintegration of a marriage, specifically, from the P.O.V. of the woman who leaves the marriage. Many of them are from traditional Turkish or Arabic households, and their women do not just pick up and leave. Their radically different cultural references for the relationship between men and women, prevents them from being able to understand, and learn from the content, therefore making it much more difficult to teach them to associate words with feelings…”

This topic of “otherness” is very ”up” over here, because as of January 1, 2014, the EU lifted work restrictions on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, giving them the same rights as any other migrants in the EU–to live and work freely in the country of their choice.

On January 1, 2014, László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion, issued a memo stating: “…The end of the restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian workers comes at a time of high unemployment and tough budget adjustment in many European countries. In hard times, mobile EU citizens are all too often an easy target: they are sometimes depicted as taking jobs away from local people or, on the contrary, not working and abusing social benefits schemes.”

He was directly referring to the fact that across the EU, Romanians and Bulgarians are unfairly seen as interchangeable with Gypsies, who’ve earned a bad rap for being thieves, ranging from simple pick pocketing to more elaborate schemes. When times are hard…it gets very complicated.

For example, in response to Britain’s scaremongering bias against Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, the Bucharest daily newspaper Gandul, shot back with a satirical ad campaign featuring the Duchess of Cambridge, challenging why anyone would leave Romania for the UK, ”Why don’t you come over… half our women look like Kate, the other half like her sister…”

Well yes, there is still that––leaving Commissioner Ando to acknowledge that,”…the sudden influx of migrants…can put a strain on education, housing and social services…” He went on to outline several positive steps underway to address these problems, in lieu of erecting barriers.

For instance, as of January 1st, each EU country should use at least 20% of its allotted ESU funds on promoting social inclusion and combating poverty. The ESU, European Social Fund, which sets aside over 10 billion euros every year, invests capitol in creating fair opportunities for all EU citizens––young people, job seekers and workers.

There are three important issues, which are inextricably woven together when considering factors that affect successful cultural integration: Poverty and Education, Traditional Values and Morals, and Empowerment. There are also some very hopeful programs designed to address, correct, and bring about greater social equality.

Poverty and Education

Many migrants from within the EU, who have been forced by the euro crisis to look for jobs in other countries, are sitting side by side with refugees fleeing wars and persecution. Most everyone has relocated without much money––if any at all, and are completely dependent at first, on the social welfare systems in their host countries. Sweden tops the list for the best social programs, followed by Norway and Germany, so these states have a heads-up in terms of awareness, though the problems are far from over.

In a recent article in Spiegel Online International, Philipp Steinle, the president of a school in Southwest Germany, who noted that most of the students between the ages of 11 to 16 come from countries deeply affected by the euro crisis is quoted as saying: “We can sense the economic weakness of a country right here by the number of students in this class…the more students from any one country, the worse shape that country is in.”

Here in Germany, as well as many other EU countries, the children of impoverished, and socially disadvantaged families often come from rural Turkish or Arabic backgrounds, with little or no education. Their parents can offer no real role model to help them cope, and integrate, nor can they give them encouraging solutions for changing their economic positions. These children often have difficulty reading and writing in German, and do not receive enough, if any language support at home. They simply offer traditional role-playing; the father works out of the house, and the mother stays home and takes care of the children and the food. It takes an entirely new generation to accept a dual income family, if even then.

Then there is the new phenomenon of children who arrive from countries where their families were already immigrants. A recent article titled: Children of Crisis: German Schools Struggle with Wave of Immigrants, also on the Spiegel Online International website explains, “This is a totally new phenomenon, brought about by the euro crisis,” says Michaela Menichetti, integration commissioner for the school district in Reutlingen, also near Stuttgart. For many students, their arrival in Germany is their second time starting from scratch. “We have Turkish students who are coming to us from Bulgaria, Russian-born students from Portugal and Greeks from Russia. It’s an enormous challenge for the schools.”

One school in the EU that has been attempting to deal with these issues is the Green Leaves Vocational School, close to Lille, France. Because of the complexity of the situation and their personal backgrounds, many young people choose to drop out of formal education. Herlé Bossennec explains, “We offer them a different approach, combining work placements with formal learning in the school. It’s a supple system that can be adapted to individual needs,” he adds. The young people want to get the necessary vocational skills for interesting work, and given a chance to progress, they often develop a desire and determination to continue.

In Switzerland, there is a similar dropout rate among low-income migrant, and immigrant students. At Unterstrass High School in Zurich, a program called ChagALL, has had a high degree of success. Partially funded by The Jacobs Foundation, and the Department of Education of the Canton of Zurich, the program “…provides targeted training and support to motivated young people with immigrant background and low-income families to help them make the transition to more advanced schooling. If the young people pass the entrance examination, they continue to receive support for the first two years so that the program achieves a lasting effect.”

Traditional Values and Morals

As my friend the teacher confided, the confusing mixture of traditional values and morals, which immigrants from Arabic and Eastern countries bring with them to their host countries, pose special, and extraordinary sets of problems for students, teachers, and parents.

One thing I never really thought about was the difficulty of communicating with parents when things are not going well in school. This is especially true when it comes to the roles men and women are expected to play in society. As the mothers are the ones at home, teachers often must use an interpreter. On the rare occasion when the women do speak some German, they are still bound by tradition, moral values, and cultural imperatives. These women simply do not see the need to assimilate, or change their ways of thinking.

In my friend’s school, all girls must complete a swimming lesson, or risk failing their Physical Activity class, which in the long run can hold them back from advancing easily into the next year. Germans do not like to fail––more than most, and therefore believe that this is enough impetus to scare someone into doing what is required. In many of the cultures the teachers interact with, much is negotiable. Here is a quick example she shared with me:

“Hello Mrs. Tilki, we have a problem with Irem. She needs to complete her swimming course but she refuses to wear the Muhajabah Plus, which is the covering popular with some of the other girls here…”

“Oh yes I know.” Mrs. Tilki said.

“Well. Mrs. Tilki––I’m afraid that is not an option. However she can submit a written letter from her doctor stating there is a good medical reason why she cannot go in the water.”

“Oh yes…she has a good reason…she does not like the water. It makes her skin itch.”

“In that case, she would not have to participate and there will be no penalty. But I’ll need a letter from your doctor.”

“Yes, well the Doctor said she is perfectly fine, in perfect health.”

“Listen, then she must complete the swimming course or else take the failure. If she does that, she must then get a perfect score in the following semester’s physical fitness class.”

“Yes, we will do it like that then,” said Mrs. Tilki.

Since 2005, the Goethe Institute in Germany has offered a unique Summer Camp based on the model created by a team of educational scientists from the Center for Educational Research at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, also in Bremen. They organized a Summer Vacation camp for children from immigrant and socially disadvantaged families with weak German skills. The camp, focused on improving language skills by combining two different kinds of language support platforms: language support via somewhat traditional language lessons, and indirect language support through theater workshops. The non-threatening role-playing in the theater groups, allows the children to gain a better cultural understanding of their new country, helps them to lose their fears of social engagement, and has the added affect of boosting their self-confidence and feeling of community. The results have been very encouraging.


Empowerment

A recent program on the German News featured a hopeful story about a project in Berlin called Heroes, which attempts to help young boys in Muslim families break with traditional behavior patterns in regards to gender roles.

The Goethe Institute website page “Migration and Integration,” currently features an article titled, “Heroes Of Berlin-Neuköll” which explains that the goal of the program is to”… help the boys in Muslim families, to stand up for an end to honor being used as a means of suppression.”

One teacher quoted in the article said, “… Her students have such a weird concept of honor that it often affects their learning abilities – even the slightest form of criticism insults their honor.”

The Hero Project, consists of groups of boys with a peer leader/mentor, which meet for a prolonged period of time, attend lectures, go to exhibitions, and participate in discussions about codes of honor, self-determination and equality.

They go into the community and visit school workshops, which involve acting out gender role reversals, and answering the subsequent questions, which usually arise. The leaders of these groups are boys that want to change these traditional ways of thinking, and give the boys in their group the understanding and help to empower them to protect and defend their sisters and girlfriends, especially in cases of perceived loss of honor.

This is great news. Heroes was the brainchild of Dammar Riedel-Breidenstein, a sociologist from Sweden, who collaborated with other sociologists and gender researchers. The World Childhood Foundation which is an organization that supports projects worldwide, aimed at preventing abuse and exploitation of children, has funded the project, since 2007.

While the problems are many, and may seem overwhelming, I found it very hopeful that the EU has begun to address the deeper layers of issues and obstacles facing integration, with creative and socially aware programs. The EU Commission seems to have realized that left un-checked and ignored; this new reality is a perfect breeding ground for social instability, and more crisis…which no one needs.

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

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3 Things I’ve Learned as a Transglobal Pilgrim

October 3rd, 2013

Transglobal

Learning by doing is one of the most powerful, and rewarding ways to enter into another culture. I studied the French language for 12 years before finally going to France, and it was there that the desire to “become French,” overwhelmed me. As an avid people watcher, I love to observe body language, gesture, facial expressions, and attitude. So, I perfected the art of mimic. I returned to the states and studied the language for another 3 years and when I could afford it, I took vacations in French speaking lands–– islands being my favorite.

Growing up in Los Angeles I also fell in love with the Mexican culture. It is inescapable in terms of cultural celebrations, holidays, and the coming and goings of daily life. As far as I am concerned, it is a necessity to learn to speak Spanish if you live in L.A. Of course you can stay on the surface, and observe others from afar, but what fun is that? To fully experience life in the multitude of Spanish speaking populations of the city, you have to do some cultural shape shifting.

I have found that my eagerness to relate is always well received and it opens up doorways to completely new and fascinating worlds hidden just under the surface of daily life. Ones that can make the most mundane trip to the corner store a richly rewarding experience.

I have only lived in Germany for about two years now, and I am trying to learn by doing, but I have not tried to mimic this time. I absolutely refuse to raise my voice 5 octaves when given the customary ciao––Tschüsss! Grown men over 25 go completely falsetto when saying it. Everyone does.

I do admit to a language deficit, but I always start off by saying, “Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut, Ich komme aus Kalifornien,“ my German is not so good, I come from California. By looking at me they just assume I am German, and they get a funny look on their face when I try complicated sentences, poorly. So, I’ve found that by offering an explanation up front, things usually go quite well from that point on. The Kalifornien always breaks the ice. The more fluent I become, of course the more I learn about how life here works. Here are three important things I have learned about my new land.

1. Taxi Cab Ride

The taxi cab driver that came to take us to my husband’s first doctor’s visit, post hip-replacement surgery, recently had a knee replacement himself. He came from Turkey a number of years ago, and spoke flawless German. I listened to the best of my ability as the two men exchanged stories and chatted in the front seat. It slowly came out that they had been at the same, quite famous Orthopedic Hospital for their surgery and recovery.

In addition, in Germany, everyone stays in the hospital for two weeks of monitoring and the beginning of physical therapy/ rehabilitation. The insurance companies pay, knowing they will still make a profit, because two weeks in the hospital in Germany is still cheaper than a second, more complicated surgery. It has been shown that 2 weeks of post-operative care, lowers the recidivism for most surgeries.

Wow–– It astonished me to learn that costs are structured, and social thinking dictates that absolutely everyone can get great care, and be given the exact same physical therapy and rehab, and go to one of the many “Wellness/ Rehab” centers throughout the German countryside.

On top of it, imagine that the Taxi Company in Bremen allows this recuperative time, and with full pay! Of course there are those who are privat versichert, those that pay for “Private Health Insurance” versus the Government mandated insurance everyone must have, the gesetzliche Krankenversicherung.

The privat patients do get priority with doctor’s appointments and surgery schedules, because the doctors and institutions make more money off them, and know they will always be paid without tedious Insurance Carrier negotiations.

The last time I was in New York I learned that the taxi cab drivers in the city all own and are responsible for their own cars, which was news to me, and I am sure that the Senegalese driver who told us that, did not have the opportunity to get the same medical treatment as his Turkish counterpart in Germany. I am pretty sure he did not get paid rehabilitation for a month in the countryside or a city clinic.
In Los Angeles, the taxi drivers are often educated professionals, immigrants from other countries. They are classically trained musicians, doctors and dentists from the Ukraine, Iran, India, or you name it. I am pretty sure that they also don’t have the opportunities for care that the taxi drivers in Germany have.

2. Ticket Revenue

Cities get inventive when it comes time to collect more revenue. In Los Angeles the car is still the dominant mode of transportation, however, the city is installing a very much needed rail system. The last time I was in Los Angeles, I took the first chance I could to ride the rail between Culver City and Exposition Park. I got a TAP card and happily passed on the traffic jams, and cost of driving and the exorbitant cost of parking. The Expo Line Phase 2, due to be completed by 2015, will connect Downtown Los Angeles and beyond, directly to the beach in Santa Monica. They still have to create an access system to get through the city to the Metro Rail Depots, but that will come. Check out the budding system : http://www.buildexpo.org/

But back to revenue. On the car dominant streets of Los Angeles, the costs vary; a jay-walking ticket – $191, a parking ticket-up to $68, a speeding ticket $210 and more, and let’s not talk about texting while driving.

First of all, Europeans would laugh in the face of police-person who tried to give them a jaywalking ticket, as it is done all the time. However, here, I am one of the few who cross against the light at a street corner! Everyone, waits for the light to turn green before walking, even when there are no cars around for city blocks.

Now that I live in a place with an amazing mass transit system, I have learned to never get caught trying to ride for free on the city trams, and definitely, not more than 3 times. Each violation costs 40 Euros and after the 3rd time it goes on record as a criminal offense. I remember thinking it was like our 3-Strikes Law in California. A bit over-the-top. The tram cost is 2,40 Euros one way for all destinations farther than 3 stops, so pretty much everyone pays, and the system runs great.

I know it costs more in Manhattan, something around $100 per offense. And the jury is still out in Los Angeles, as the whole inner-city rail concept is just now being brought back to life. At one time, Los Angeles had one of the most extensive light rail systems in the country, so I am sure the city will figure that out.

I learned by using the wrong, small piece of paper. I mistakenly used the receipt-for-the-purchase-paper (who knew?), paper-clipped together with the bunch of tickets my father-in–law had given me.

I stamped them in the machine inside the tram, as I had seen others do, and when the tram-police-guy came up and asked for my tickets, (the first and only time to date) I proudly handed him the stamped paperlet. He looked at them, gave a smug laugh, and told me they were Müll, trash. I was shocked, and tried to explain in my imperfect German that my father-in-law had given them to me, and I did not know the difference between them, so I did not think I used an invalid ticket.

It did not go over too well, trying to explain to him that I am not yet fluent with the language or the system. He asked how long I had been in Bremen and if I was a citizen. No, I am an American married to a German. Then he asked for my passport–– of course I didn’t have it. He did not like that answer, so I informed him I was a permanent resident and produced my card. He told me to learn German, and wrote me a ticket and admonished me not to develop a criminal record. Not fun. Public transport does not take kindly to fare evasion, it taxes everyone more.

Now that I am an immigrant, I just couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if I didn’t have my residency card…would it be something like not having your green card while Mexican in California? I think I will avoid that experiment.

3. The Market

Shopping for food is another way to begin assimilating into a new culture, and one that still comes with a bit of stress. In the markets, people are usually in a hurry, and everyone packs their own bags. There is no standing around while the checker or “bag-person” does it for you like in American markets, although we always packed our own bags in Los Angeles, much to the shock and appreciation of the clerk at the checkout stand. It seems only logical to help things move along.

In Germany it goes very fast, and between trying to pack my cloth bags, not break the eggs and translate in my head the amount the checker has just quoted me, I always break into a small sweat. Things can pile up quickly with the press of impatient shoppers breathing down your neck. You must learn to ignore them and pack with deftness and speed.

I remember the first Trader Joe’s in Pasadena on Arroyo Parkway in the 1970’, and until I moved to Germany I had no idea that it was bought by the German Aldi Nord Company, known here as Aldi. When I go to the Aldi discount market near us, I walk away with California Almond and California Walnut packages bearing the Trader Joe’s logo! However, I have to say, the Almonds are not as good as the California Almonds I get at the California Trader Joe’s. But it still makes me smile.

Buying food is different here. You absolutely have to go to the market every day, or every other day, max if you want to have fresh produce. The produce here does not last more than 2-3 days in the fridge. That is good on one hand, because you know with certainty that nothing has been done to prolong the freshness. It is bad on the other hand, because it takes more time, and is especially not fun in sub-zero temperatures to run out for lettuce and tomatoes.

Fresh Hummus here from the Turkish fruit and vegetable stand is utterly delicious and goes bad after two days, so I manage to eat it up. In the states, Hummus can last for a week in the fridge. Same goes for all dairy products.

Occasionally a piece of fruit, usually one out of season, will rot from the inside out. Aha! Evidence of being previously frozen. But I still prefer that to artificially prolonged food. I never understood why the Horizon Organic Half and Half lasted for a month? That just ain’t right.

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

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Eat Your Greens!

March 28, 2013

Kampf der Apotheken

How many of us were badgered by our mothers to “Eat your greens” when staring at the dinner plate, preferring to polish off the spaghetti, fried chicken, or pizza, letting the green stuff sit. Spinach? Broccoli? Collards? Yuck! In Germany, there are a couple of seasonal, very “green” traditional foods, consumed mostly in the Fall and Winter when the first frost occurs, and continuing on until spring. I am sure most people don’t really think about the health benefits of what they are eating, however, there is no accident that these traditions happen when our immune systems are lowered by cold weather and the bacteria that germinate indoors, during those months.

Once again, I’ve noticed some interesting and inspiring differences between Germany and America. I just can’t help it. One of the areas of great interest to me is healthcare, and attitudes towards health and healing. Both Germany and America have amazing foundations for medical care and treatment, as well as great education in the healthcare fields.

But one thing I’ve noticed which constantly astounds me is the proliferation of neighborhood Apotheken, or Pharmacies. I swear, there is a small pharmacy on just about every other block, and every second corner, even in the smaller villages. It’s crazy, how many pharmacies there are. Americans want to be fit and healthy and Germans want to be sure they stay healthy and just assume they will be fit as a result. However judging by the number of Apotheken, I would venture to say that they have a serious preoccupation with health.

Of course all Germans can afford it, but I won’t go in to the health-care-for everyone-regardless-of-your-ability-to pay aspect, here in Germany. That is for a later blog. What I want to concentrate on is the foundation of traditional medicine, and educational opportunity, and how that plays out in both Germany and America. Traditional medical systems in all countries around the world use phytotherapy as the basis of their doctrines, and it is the basis for most modern medical practice.

About a year ago, while doing research for a book, I came across an article with a wealth of information regarding the African Diaspora’s contribution to modern medicine. An article titled, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy, in the Atlantic World, the author Brian Grabbatin states, “…The slave voyage may have ended at the auction block, but Africa’s botanical legacy did not.” 1

I began an ongoing exploration about Slave Healers who used their powerful core knowledge of plant remedies and cures. Slave Healers on antebellum plantations were the black “nurses,” assigned by the slaveholders to staff plantation hospitals, and they did not only treat other slaves, but worked with white patients as well. Ex-slave narratives contain many accounts of these inter-racial encounters, and the work of these “herb, or root doctors.”

In a slave narrative, the former slave John Mosley is quoted, ”When the slave became sick we most time had the best of care take of us. Maser let our old mammy doctor us and she used herbs from the woods… Yes if we got a leg or arm broken Maser would have the white doctor with us, but that was about all, for our old negro mammy was one of the best doctors in the world with her herb teas. When she gives you some tea made from herbs you could just bet it would sure do you good.” 2

Check this out. In 1847 when The American Medical Association (AMA) was formed, many of the founding physicians in South Carolina also played active roles in the development of the “plantation hospitals.” Francis Peyre Porcher was a young doctor who was among the numerous white physicians who needed information on the medicinal plants of the United States, as they were not listed in their European catalogs of botany or their Materica Medica. To fill that void, the newly formed AMA created the committee of Indigenous Medical Botany. In an eye-opening article by Marita Graham Goodson in the Western Journal of Black Studies, she relates that while describing the medical wealth and extensive healing properties of the plants in South Carolina, Francis Porcher made “…more frequent reference to information obtained from Africans than he did to that from the white medical men who had been his teachers.”

She further recounts that the efficacy of these slave-plant remedies provided the basis for Porchers medical school thesis, and subsequent report to the AMA. Included in that thesis was knowledge of plants he collected from Native American medical practitioners as well as accounts of the African-based medical practices of slaves on Caribbean plantations. These remedies would later help combat the rampant epidemics of Yellow Fever, Cholera and Malaria, which swept through the South in the late 1840’s.

During the Civil War, in what can only be seen as a perversely ironic, twist of fate, the Confederacy published Francis Porcher’s book, Resources of Southern Fields and Forests, which was based on an expanded version of his medical thesis gleaned from “…fifteen years of experience among the sons and daughters of Africa, practicing medicine on them and watching them practice as well…” Those African slaves made a sadly invisible yet invaluable, fundamental contributions to the future medical standards of the AMA.

So what does that tell us about the power and use of medicinal plants and their place in contemporary medical practice? At the beginning of the 20th century, traditional plant medicines, or phytotherapy declined due to the rapid development and fiscally profitable production of synthetic medicines. However, people in low and middle-income countries never stopped using plants as their main source of medicine. And, as rising medical costs plague most societies around the world, we have seen a renewal of interest in traditional practices and herbal remedies.

However in 2013, the global marketplace of medicinal plants has brought the issues of regulating and safeguarding against contamination and residues to the forefront. Of course, in the pre-industrialized, pre-chemical world, this kind of quality assurance was unnecessary. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that nearly 80 % of the world’s population is dependent on traditional medicine for primary health care, and has published guidelines for the assessment of herbal medicines in an attempt to help governments develop regulations that ensure herbal and plant based medicines are safe and safely administered. http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/documents/s14878e/s14878e.pdf

Pass the Oscillococcinum (?)
Herbal medicine is more readily accepted in Europe than in the United States, and a number of the Homeopathic remedies in the U.S. are imported from the EU. The French company Boiron produces Oscillococcinum, a first symptom homeopathic remedy for the Flu, which is highly effective and sold in the U.S, but oddly enough, not allowed in Germany due to trade restrictions. However, European physicians, health professionals and researchers have formed ESCOP, the European Scientific Cooperative for Phytotherapy. This organization is publishing monographs on individual herbs used in clinical medicine as well as those used for self-medication.

Back to the corner Apotheke. In Germany, every single one of those corner Apotheken are well stocked with phytomedicine. Bulk bags are dispensed by pharmacists who are trained in both Western bio-medical and plant medicine. Wow. Go ask about herbs for; bronchitis, hypertension, gallstones or a liver detox and they know exactly what you need. They disappear into the back and come out with several bags of herbs, root, and flower cures, and proceed to ask you questions about your condition. I find that to be a wonderful benefit. This does not happen in a local Walgreen, Rite Aid or CVS! Everyone in Germany as far as I know, uses phytomedicine first and synthetic medicine and prescriptions as a last resort.

In Germany, the Ministry of Health has a separate commission, The German Commission E, which compiled 380 monographs evaluating the safety and efficacy of herbs for licensed medical prescribing in Germany. There is an English translation by the American Botanical Council. The commission itself was formed in 1978 and is presently part of the “Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte” (German equivalent of the FDA). German doctors study herbal medicine in medical school, and since 1993, all physicians in Germany must pass a section on these medicines in their board exams before becoming licensed. So cool!

In America, the FDA (U.S. food and Drug Administration) attempts to regulate the burgeoning herbal and supplement industries, but there is currently no licensing body for the practice of herbal medicine in the United States. However, America has wonderful schools which license and teach practitioners the Western bio-medical model, and Oriental approaches, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Within the Western medical community, naturopathic physicians have a solid foundation in botanical medicine and phytochemistry, and many hospitals in the U.S. are now acknowledging and implementing the traditional medical practices of the immigrant communities. I’ve listed links to several organizations and schools at the end of the blog.

Things are slowly changing, and Homeopathic Pharmacies are popping up, at least in my home state of California, where you can go to find quality medicine, and expert advice from trained homeopathic professionals. Sadly these are far and few between, and usually only found in “higher income” areas. The general population is still in the dark in regards to herbal medicine, which is labeled Alternative and sometimes regarded as “quackery.”

What is Homeopathy?

Homeopathy originated in 1796, and according to The Society of Homeopaths, “ …Is a system of medicine which involves treating the individual with highly diluted substances, given mainly in tablet form, with the aim of triggering the body’s natural system of healing. Based on their specific symptoms, a homeopath will match the most appropriate medicine to each patient.” Homeopathy has been extensively studied and clinically proven to work and the National Center for Homeopathy (NCH) is the organizing body for homeopathic medicine in the U.S. The NCH provides accurate and up to date information about homeopathy to the public, as well as offering the NCH Summer School which provides, “…instruction to those who wished to learn self-help skills for family use, as well as highly specialized classes for health care professionals in medical specialties such as medical doctors, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, veterinarians, and other health practitioners…” They even offer webinars on their website for those that are interested: http://nationalcenterforhomeopathy.org

Eat Your Greens!

Here in Germany, a traditional and quite delicious dish is Grüenköhl, or Kale. Super rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins, Grüenköhl, is eaten with gusto and is really full of health promoting power. The other is Frankfurter Grüen Sauce, a deeply green sauce of 7 blended herbs (4) which is absolutely delicious. All of these herbs are medicinal and I found it really interesting that these healing plants are readily enjoyed by just about everyone. O.K., they are often accompanied by fatty pork dishes, but still… The power of these plants to heal has worked its way into popular cuisine, under the radar of even the most stubborn skeptic!

So, no matter what type of medicine you prefer for healing, go eat your greens! I certainly am.

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

Footnotes

1. In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World (review)-Brian Graabbatin
-Southeastern Geographer 
Volume 51, Number 3, Fall 2011 – http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/southeastern_geographer/v051/51.3.grabbatin.html

2. John Mosley interview, Rawick, suppl. 2, vol. 7.6, Texas, 2805.

3. Medical-Botanical Contributios of African Slaves to American Medicine—Marita Graham Goodson,
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 11, No 4, 1987

4.Herbs in Frankfurter Grüne Sauce: Italian Parsley, tarragon, Chives, Dill, Chevril, Sorrel, Lemon Balm

Links:

American Botanical Council: http://abc.herbalgram.org

Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences: http://www.scnm.edu/-Southwest

HerbNet-List of University Programs in the US: http://www.herbnet.com/university_p2.htm

Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine Links: http://blog.chestnutherbs.com/links

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