Innsbruck program will be missed
Eric Boettcher, Eric Boettcher, Kevin Padden, Dan Russ, Maria Serakos, Kate Von Hoffman | Monday, February 1, 2010
There has been no shortage of letters concerning the cancellation of the Innsbruck program, but we believe that, as current students, we have a unique perspective. While we hope the program does somehow reemerge, we think that this letter would be better served praising the program, instead of questioning OIS’ decision.
The opportunities and experiences we have this year may be unparalleled by any other study-abroad program. We begin the year with a month of intensive German (six hours a day) in Salzburg, the home of Mozart, Silent Night, Stiegl and, of course, The Sound of Music. It could be the quintessential European city. We were able to go on a weekend trip to Vienna with our program director and, for many of us, visit locations like Stefansdom or Café Sacher which we learned about in our German classes. It was a great way for us to bond, to be eased into life in a foreign country and to refresh our German skills.
Our classes in Innsbruck are all held with professors who have spent ten years or more with the program. These are teachers who understand the struggles non-native speakers have and they are also teachers who genuinely care about the students and the program. Every one of them has expressed how much they will miss teaching Notre Dame students. This is a relationship that few, if any, other students studying in Innsbruck receive. It is very clear that at Austrian universities, neither the professors nor the university is concerned with the students. This isn’t a shot at their system, but it should be known that it is a radically different system from what we have at Notre Dame.
The greatest appeal of the Berlin program appears to be the “prestige” or the opportunity for “elite learning opportunities.” However, one must consider what kinds of language skills are required for this. To take a course where the professor neither knows nor cares that German is a second language is to say that you have the same language skills as the students sitting around you. Students who themselves are in the very top of their talent pool and who have been speaking the language their entire lives. The language skills required to succeed in this environment cannot be developed at Notre Dame — a student would practically need to have lived in a German-speaking country before they could achieve this level. Unfortunately, judging from the way the Berlin program was presented to us, none of us would have been at the level required.
Finally, we have our wonderful program director, Gernot Guertler, and his wife Anita, who put in hours upon hours to make this program the best it can be. We are personally matched up with guest families with whom we eat, visit and learn how Austrian families live. In the student dorm we live in, we are completely surrounded by native Austrian, German and European students. In one hallway we have students from Austria, Germany, Italy, Romania, Bosnia, Poland, Luxembourg, Sweden, Spain and Taiwan. And we think students from every year will agree that German is better learned in a communal kitchen than in a classroom.
We would like to thank the Guertlers, our professors, our guest families and all of the returnees who helped us to make this semester so personal and so enjoyable. Fourteen more students arrive for the semester in less than two weeks. It is a shame that we will be the last 22 students to have this opportunity.
Kate Von Hoffman