MASNEWS 1/2016: Highlights at the HCA
The HCA welcomed 13 new students to its MAS program in the fall semester of 2015. One of the newly arrived MAS students is Jonathan Schlaefer from the United States. Today he tells us about his experiences during his first weeks getting settled in Germany and Heidelberg. He shares his very first impressions and experiences studying at the HCA.
When I stepped onto the platform at the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof it was a little later in the morning than I had planned, since my train from Frankfurt had been delayed by half an hour. (This surprised me. Maybe Germans are not relentlessly punctual after all!) The air was clear and fresh, like springtime, and the trees still had their summer leaves, making the hills look like green clouds. I was full of excitement and a little apprehensive at the prospect of settling into this unknown, beautiful place for the next several months.
It would still be a couple of days before I was allowed to move into my student accommodations. I had neglected to reserve an interim room anywhere, assuming I would be able to get a bed in the same hostel I had stayed in during my first visit to Heidelberg last year. Here I was mistaken, since that hostel was booked to capacity. The same held true of the next two hostels I tried, but at the last one the kind woman at the reception made a phone call and found me a room at the Jugendherberge Hostel in Neuenheimer Feld. So that was where I spent the following two nights, taking full advantage of the establishment's ample buffet breakfasts and falling asleep to the roars of lions pacing their enclosures in the zoo next door. In the daytime, I explored the Old Town and the University, submitted various matriculation forms to various offices, and tested the limits of how far my loud American English and rudimentary German could take me in everyday communication.
I had been fortunate enough to receive an offer for a room at Sibley Haus, on Heumarkt at the western end of Untere Strasse. The building's quaint exterior, with its mansard roof and wooden shutters, belies the Spartan character of its tile-floored passages and rooms. Outside, next to the door, is a plaque commemorating a previous resident, the nineteenth-century German Jewish novelist Berthold Auerbach. (I was to find many such plaques on houses around town: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, José Rizal, Robert Bunsen, Muhammed Iqbal, and scores of others.) To get my key I had to make an appointment with the Hausmeister, whose only English was the phrase "No English." Once I had found the correct room number, met my very agreeable roommate, and tossed my luggage onto the floor of my apartment, I felt as at home in Heidelberg as the Student Prince himself.
The next step was to formalize my status with the German government. Within a few days, I took a bus to the Foreigners' Registration Office, carrying a manila envelope bursting with required documents for the residence permit application. At the office, I found grizzled Herren and Frauen with tombstone expressions, communicating in gruff, clipped German and gruffer, more clipped English. They passed me along the chain of command until, days later and following several emails, appointments and humiliations, I stood before a door marked imposingly with the name of the Frau who was to give my application her stamp of approval and send it on its way to Berlin. I felt certain she would combine and amplify the terrifying qualities of all the others, like a Disney villainess. I opened the door and there she was at her desk, a young woman around my own age, looking bored and friendly and smiling as she took my fingerprints and calmly explained that I could expect to receive my permit in three weeks' time. It was as if I had stepped into a bureaucratic version of the Grimms' fairy tales, and she was a princess in a castle of trolls.
The first weeks of the semester are hard to forget. A tsunami of students engulfed the Old Town to drink as much as possible before courses got too demanding. Groups of student corps members in their caps and colors roamed here and there. Students from each department organized “pub crawls”; mathematicians, philosophers, physicists, archaeologists—no one held back. During the day, I followed masses of tourists to Heidelberg's renowned attractions: the Castle, the Old Bridge, and the Student Prison. I walked the Philosopher's Way for the first time with a new friend who, fittingly, is a philosophy student. I dined perhaps too many times on Schnitzel and Wurstsalat washed down with beer. Those were golden days.
Of course, the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, housed in its elegant old palais, was the reason for all this adventuring. I will not bother explaining how I changed from an undergraduate with no definite plans for the future to a schnapps-drinking graduate student studying my own country from Germany. There were certainly a lot of coincidences involved. In any case, from the time I turned up, feeling slightly nervous, for the welcoming event, to the current frenzy to prepare for the first wave of exams and paper deadlines, I have found this institution to be an open and welcoming intellectual home. I am closer to some of my classmates than to others, but we have all become friends. It is still early, but I am reasonably confident that I made a sound decision in coming here, and look forward to what future semesters hold in store.
Hai Ly Tran completed her M.A. at the HCA in 2011. Currently, she is a Ph.D. student in American Culture Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, USA. Today, she tells us how her MAS experience fostered her scholarly development.
My time at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) could not have been more valuable. The MAS program provided me with broad academic knowledge and also enhanced my English skills like no other. The structure and expectations of the program introduced me to a profound understanding of innovative learning and teaching methods, not to mention a wonderful life experience. All those factors have significantly contributed to my academic, professional, and personal development.
After graduation, I returned to my home country and continued to work in the English Department of Banking Academy, one of the most prestigious universities in Vietnam. My tasks there were not so different from the approach of the MAS. Valuing my skills, the Dean and the Boards of Directors strongly acknowledged my work and supported me in many ways. To give you an impression, I was in charge of syllabuses for existing courses in Academic Writing, which might sound familiar to some MAS students. Additionally, I managed translation practices and developed a new course on Cross-Culture Studies at Banking Academy. I was also partly in charge of developing the curriculum for the BA program in English for Banking and Finance, as well as the English for academic purposes program. In recognition of my efforts, I was appointed the vice-chair of English for Specific Purposes Division at Banking Academy of Vietnam only three years after receiving my MAS.
With my degree from the strong and well respected program at the HCA, I was awarded a fellowship in 2014 to pursue a Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa due to a collaboration with Vietnam International Education Development (VIED)- East-West Center (EWC). Since my youngest child was just 5 months old at that time, I decided to postpone a Ph.D. until 2015, when I applied for several Ph.D. programs in American Studies in the United States. The well-known reputation of the HCA had a tremendous influence as I got admitted to several universities, namely the University at Buffalo-SUNY; University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM), and Bowling Green State University (BGSU) which even offered a four-year full scholarship for their Ph.D. program.
It is undeniable that I couldn't have got such considerable professional and academic achievements without valuable supports from my esteemed professors at the HCA and my knowledge and experience gained from the MAS.
I would like to send my deepest gratitude to the HCA for awarding me - a student from a disadvantageous country – a MAS scholarship so that I had a great opportunity to study in Germany, where I started a new chapter of my life. It helped me become more competitive in the academic and professional fields, but most importantly, I met and got married to an ideal husband who gives me lots of encouragements and supports in my career, resulting in a happy marriage with 2 beautiful children.
The HCA is welcoming a number of visiting professors throughout the current academic year. One of them is Robert D. Lemon, who is a human geographer as well as a filmmaker. Thus, Robert combines aspects of filmmaking with issues of social geography as they relate to urban landscapes. He holds a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from the Ohio State University, a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a former lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley in Landscape Architecture. Robert teaches courses on American Cultural Landscapes as well as Food Practices and Urban Space. While at the HCA this year, Robert instructed two courses on American Cultural Landscapes, gave one guest lecture at the HCA, and also showed his latest film, Transfusión.
Robert Lemon’s academic expertise is on urban and cultural geography in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. He examines spatial practices and their patterns as a cultural landscape. He is also especially interested in foodways and food systems. Thus, his work cuts across the ways in which people experience and transform the built environment through food related activities. Robert observes through grounded empirical research individual practices and social performances, and then works back to critical geographic theory. His past research focused on the ways in which cultural foodways and associated socio-spatial practices from Mexico shape North American cities. His past research detailed the ways in which Mexican immigrant-owned taco trucks have affected the social, political, and physical dimensions of American cities in California, Ohio, and Texas. He is currently rewriting his dissertation on the topic of taco trucks for a book publication, Taco Truck Urban Topographies: The Spatial Politics of Eating ‘Out’ in the American City (working title).
His two courses at the HCA look at the American cultural landscape through aspects of urban design and filmmaking. His course, "The American Multi-Cultural Landscape – Difference and Diversity,” examines the various ethnic, political, and social dimensions that have shaped the United States’ built environment. The course also introduces students to a number of ways in which the American landscape can be analyzed and interpreted. His second course, “New York City’s Cultural Landscape Through Film and Filmmaking” combines his expertise in human geography with that of the filmmaking process. In this course, Robert posits filmmaking as a geographic method, and cinematic story telling as a map. Through this geographic framework, students learn to interpret the myriad of ways in which the socio-spatial dimensions of NYC are represented in film.
Robert’s latest documentary, Transfusión, was presented at the HCA. Transfusión is a cinema verite documentary that traces taco trucks across the city of Columbus, Ohio, uncovering the complex and contentious circumstances encompassing Mexican cuisine in the United States. While the west side of the City (the Greater Hilltop Area) struggle to come to terms with how to handle the emergence of taco trucks, a black neighborhood on the East side (the King-Lincoln district) has invited a taco truck into one of the most impoverished areas of Columbus to help revitalize the community. For the City of Columbus, the trucks are more than just about food; they're about immigration, race, community acceptance, and the exchange of life in the inner city.
MAS Marketing Tour in the United States
After promoting the MAS program in China (2012) and in Chile (2013), the MAS team visited the United States in the fall of 2015 to promote the HCA’s MAS and Ph.D. programs, as well as the Spring Academy. Dr. Anne Sommer presented the institute at the Career Day "Studying and Working in Germany" at the Goethe Institut in New York City. She also established closer ties with the German Center for Research and Innovation, through its director Dr. Joann Halpern, with New York University, through its undergraduate advisor Betts Brown, and with Columbia University, through its program director for the M.A. in American Studies, Dr. Matt Sandler.
Dr. Sommer was then joined by Katia Rostetter, M.A., and the HCA’s Founding Director Professor Detlef Junker, who gave lectures on "The Widening Atlantic: Market Gap, War Gap, God Gap" in St. Louis, Mo., Lincoln, Neb., and San Francisco. In St. Louis, the team met with Dr. Joel Glassmann, Associate Provost and Director for International Studies and Programs at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Professor Elizabeth Borgwardt from the Department of History at Washington University. The HCA associates also had the opportunity to introduce their programs at the German Culture Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and to network at the International Fall Reception of the Vice Chancellor for International Affairs at the house of Professor Jim Wertsch and his wife Mary. In Lincoln, Nebraska, they enjoyed the hospitality of Professors Jeannette Jones, Alexander Vazansky, and Lloyd Ambrosius, as well as the latter’s wife Marge. They also met with Rebecca Luhrs Baskerville, director of the Education Abroad Program of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In San Francisco, the MAS team and the founding director could count on the support and the hospitality of Professor Charles Postel and his wife Michael, Professor Peter Richardson, and Professor Bob Cherny, all from San Francisco State University, as well as of professors Mark Brilliant and Anthony J. Cascardi from the University of California-Berkeley. Professor Cascardi, who is also the Dean of Arts and Humanities, initiated a very productive meeting with a number of professors in American Studies. The final event of the trip, arranged by the American Council on Germany and Heidelberg University, took place in the office of "Duane Morris LLP," where a sizeable audience attended Professor Junker’s lecture on the widening Atlantic.
Our special thanks go to Irmintraud Jost, Executive Director of the Heidelberg University Association, New York, for her extraordinary support for this lecture and marketing tour.
Studying in Heidelberg
The HCA is calling for applications for the MAS class of 2018. Until March 31, 2016, interested students can apply by using our online application forms.
April 22, 2016: HCA Commencement 2016
Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA)
Curt und Heidemarie Engelhorn Palais
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