Will Gets His Ducks in a Row During CBYX Study Phase in Tübingen

Hey! I’m Will Thomas, a current Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals participant in Germany.

Frohe Weihnachten und ein glückliches Neues Jahr! Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to everyone! We’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming soon, and Germany is certainly already in the mood, but I might be getting ahead of myself…

My name is Will Thomas. I am a current 2019-2020 program participant with the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, a yearlong  fellowship in Germany funded by the German Bundestag and U.S. Department of State. This is my third post providing on-the-ground perspectives from the program. If you don’t know much about CBYX yet, make sure to read my first impressions from the program here as well as my perspectives on the language training phase here.

In this post, I wanted to share my experiences from the study phase of the CBYX program to Germany—where participants complete coursework at local universities and are required to take part in volunteering.

If you enjoy reading about my experience, consider applying for the next program! The annual CBYX program application deadline is on December 1.

Celebrating the Holidays with Alternative Schnitzel and Pizza

Germany is already preparing for the holidays at this time of the year, as you can see at the Schoko Markt (right and lower left). Holiday traditions include putting St. Nicholas chocolates in shoes (upper right).

On Sunday, September 29, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my host father and the place in Radolfzell that had been my home for the past two months, and took a train up to Tübingen. Luckily, I already knew both Tübingen and my new host family.

The train ride from Radolfzell was only about three hours, and I had already been to Tübingen three times—the first time was with my host father from Radolfzell; the second time was to meet my host parents, my regional tutor, and my Bundesland tutor; and the last time was to register as a student at the university. The second trip, where I met everyone, hyped me up for the move. Having four people there to support me and willing to meet with me before my move took away any worries I might have had.

My host parents, a couple in their mid-30s, welcomed me with a big dinner and regional dishes from their respective parts of Germany. My host mother prepared a traditional Swabian dish, Kasespätzle. My host father introduced something he had eaten as a child in East Germany, “Ossi Pizza.”

A traditional Swabian dish from southwestern German (left) and a version of pizza (right) that was popularized in the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany—the eastern part of Germany that was part of the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War.

We eat breakfast together nearly every morning and dinner together nearly every evening. Thanks to this routine, we have plenty of opportunities to converse and exchange culinary traditions! One of my most German experiences was cooking vegetarian schnitzel with my host parents using mushrooms they had gathered during a hike.

Believe it or not, this schnitzel was made with vegetables and mushrooms rather than traditional ingredients like veal or pork.

From my side, I showed my host parents some of my culture when we celebrated our own Thanksgiving—complete with a turkey, pie, lots of friends, and turkey sandwiches for the week afterwards made using leftovers.

As everywhere—Thanksgiving in Germany means Turkey, family, eating together at a crowded table, and plenty of leftovers!

Getting All My Ducks in a Row—Along with the Rest of Tübingen

Initially, I was a bit worried about making friends in my new town, but I soon realized my fears were unfounded. After a few days of getting settled and developing a feel for Tübingen, I took part in an orientation for international students, where I quickly met lots of people!

Tübingen is a classic university city with a 500 year tradition where there is always something going on, whether that is a conversation table from the German American Institute (where I met an alum of the high school version of CBYX who was in Tübingen for her Master’s), a punk concert in the Epplehaus or one of the local squat houses, or even a rubber ducky race in the river that runs through town.

Locals, visitors, and U.S. CBYX participants alike participate in this annual celebration by purchasing a duck (they have numbers on the bottom). Prizes are donated by local companies, with all profits going to local charitable causes.

The Study Phase

Eventually, classes started. I started with a weeklong initial block seminar, which took place before all the other classes started but met for five hours in a row.

This was an Interdisciplinary American Studies course, focused on Trump and his effect on the U.S. political system.This was a great first step into the Germany university system, as this class was in English and I was able to contribute my personal experience of working in electoral politics in the U.S., and I made quite a few friends.

Pro tip for future CBYX-ers: the Amerikanistiks students are much more likely to be interested in U.S. Americans than other German students.

My other classes included a lecture on the German political system, a seminar on the sociology of migration, a seminar on feminist political thinkers, and a seminar on political utopias, all four in German. I took two more classes in English, a seminar on American Ghost Stories and a seminar on Queer American Cinema.

My time at the uni right now is extremely rewarding. Because I am between finishing my Bachelor’s and starting my Master’s, I am taking classes just for fun, do not have to worry about grades, and got to choose my classes solely based on what I find interesting and want to learn about. Luckily, all these classes ended up extremely useful for other experiences I am having during my uni phase.

There is so much to learn when experiencing a foreign country. Sometimes, there are whole books written about cultural nuances that we never even consider!

The university phase of the CBYX program requires completing 40 hours of volunteering. I am completing my hours with two awesome organizations, the Rent an American program at the German American Institute and with TüNews INTERNATIONAL at the Tübingen Landratsamt.

With the Rent an American program, I’m visiting German high school English classes to tell students about what high school life is like in the U.S. while also explaining cultural differences between Germany and the U.S. as well as to answer questions they have. So far, I’ve visited four classes and had an amazing time sharing pictures and stories of my high school life with the students. It’s one thing to learn about all these differences as an abstract concept in class, but completely different to get to talk with someone about their direct experiences.

Ironically, the study phase of my CBYX program has actually included a lot of teaching. Above, I provide some first-hand knowledge of my experiences at a U.S. high school.

TüNews INTERNATIONAL, my other volunteer opportunity, is a local newspaper put out by the local county government. The newspaper is written primarily by refugees settled in Germany and is for other refugees settled in Germany, as well as the wider general audience. To meet this audience, the newspaper is published in several different languages, including German, English, Arabic, and Dari. There, I edit texts in English and translate from German to English and vice-versa. It’s amazing to work with people from all around the world to put the newspaper together, and I may even begin writing for it myself.

To put it shortly, I’ve been busy! In my next update I can’t wait to tell y’all about my internship search, meeting up with other PPPlers, and speaking with a member of the German parliament, the Bundestag!

Will Thomas

Ever since he started learning German at age 11, Will has wanted to visit a German-speaking country. His wish recently came true thanks to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals. He is a recent graduate of Georgia Tech with a Bachelor's in International Affairs and German.

View all posts by Will Thomas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.