You can’t afford not to go abroad!

This year, I have the privilege and MSu 2pleasure of serving as the Resident Director for the Academic Year in Freiburg program for the second time. It is an honor to be part of such an impactful year for our students, which typically leaves a lasting impression for the  and improves there marketability. As an alumnus from 50 years ago summarized his experience “The Year in Freiburg program for me was a renaissance in thinking, changed my Weltanschauung and my life.” 

Many students shy away from going abroad, because they think they would not be able to afford it. Many are surprised that costs for education abroad experiences are comparable to those of an equivalent amount of time or credits at home. Plus, there are large numbers of scholarships available. Hence, you can’t afford not to go.

If you are an MSU student, I hope you stopped by the Education Abroad Expo today!


Study Abroad Changes Lives!

This is my advertisement slogan, when I try to recruit students for study abroad. It is a cliché, but it is also true. Study abroad has certainly changed my life – though I obviously got the whole thing wrong by not returning home (I left Freiburg for my year abroad 19 years ago, two states later, I am still here).


But even more rewarding and life-changing than studying abroad, has been working with study abroad students (before, during, and after their time abroad). One of these wonderful students is Sophia Cheng, another one, who forgot about the going back home part of study abroad. You can read her story in our MSU German Spotlight.

Sophia’s story is one that stays with you and changes you. I will never forget her study abroad interview for Freiburg, you just knew, that a life was about to change dramatically and a young woman was about to find her pathway to happiness. It has been a pleasure to watch it unfold. It should not surprise you then, that she has become the face of the Academic Year in Freiburg program by being on the banner of the Alumni Newsletter.

Progress: Learning from mistakes

When I make my case for a year-long rather than a short-term or a one-semester study abroad program, I always tell my students that the year-long program has the great advantage to learn from your mistakes and build on your successes from the first semester during a second semester. As the Open Doors numbers suggest only few students take advantage of that option (0.3 % of US undergraduates, which represents 3% of those that study abroad during their undergraduate years).

I am delighted that during 2017-2018, I have the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and build on my success from my year as Resident Director 2013-2014. It is a great honor to be supporting and challenging (fördern und fordern) another group of those amazing 0.3% of US undergraduate students. We still have room for more students in our program and it is open to students from any US university. Check out our website: Academic Year in Freiburg Programgraduation

Naturally, I am also excited to get to spend time with my extended family, to be part of an incredible team in the AYF program, to work with the amazing AYF students, and to conduct more research on study abroad. And yes, we are excited for another season with the SC Freiburg and another World Cup watching marathon in Germany.

Go Green! Green Germany!

DE-meets-US Logo_Tagline.jpgFor the third year in a row, the German program at MSU has been fortunate to obtain funding from the German Embassy to highlight Germany. This year’s events are under the broad theme “Germany meets the U.S.” (#GermanyinUSA). Under the broader theme, we selected the topic “Green Germany” as our focus.

Our Green Germany Event Series (green-germany-overview) includes:

  • A roundtable discussion about sustainability on October 28 from 5:30 – 8 in the International Center Room 303. (go-green-roundtable)
  • A project competition open to all students enrolled in German classes at MSU or Michigan high schools. Deadline is November 10 and the award presentation on November 29. (green-germany-competition)

We hope to see many of you at these events!

LingLang Alumni Event

In my 10 years at Michigan State University I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing students from across campus. Whenever people ask me about the student population in our program, I tell them that we have very curious, committed, hard-working, down to earth, interesting and interested students, who readily engage with whatever you put in front of them. Unfortunately we do not always know, what happens to them after they leave us. To help us stay engaged with our alumni and to help them stay engaged with us, my colleague and department chair, Sonja Fritzsche, started an Alumni Weekend, which was successfully held for the first time a week ago thanks to the dedication of my colleagues and our graduate students .If you missed it, you can read the twitter feed here.

Building Bridges not Walls

Last week I had the great pleasure to participate in a workshop on LCTL distance language education: Workshop on Sustainable Partnerships for Latin American LCTLs through Distance Learning. I was invited to speak to the group about pedagogical considerations for distance language education. Before attending the workshop I knew very little about the work of Centers for Latin American Studies, the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, or Latin American LCTLs and I had never been to Nashville. Naturally I was excited to be offered the opportunity to meet people outside of my field, share my expertise, experience a new town, and learn from the workshop participants and presenters.

As I prepared for the workshop I was focused on the mutual interests and what I assumed to be mutual knowledge. As soon as the first few presenters started talking, I realized that our experiences were different, our jargon was different, our expertise was different, our contexts were different, our languages were different, our learners were different, etc. And yet we all have the same goal: bringing quality language education to as many people as possible and improving multilingual communicative competence. As I was listening I changed several of my slides to better fit the audience and explain what different words mean in the context in which I teach and in which I conduct my research. Hopefully the information helped the participants better position themselves for the tasks ahead. My colleagues Dave Malinowski (Yale) and Steve Welsh (Columbia) presented the technological possibilities to support the pedagogical goals and needs, which should help programs move instruction online or in a different distance learning format. The workshop website will soon include several of those resources.

For  1.5 days I learned about new languages, new constraints, new models of language education, new people, new cultures, and new solutions. What I appreciated most about being part of the workshop was the opportunity to communicate across disciplinary boundaries and to build bridges not walls; to not hide in my own discipline, but look to the neighbor, learn from them, and open the door for more collaboration. Thank you to Becky Horn and Avery Dickins de Giron for organizing such a wonderful workshop. Thank you to all participants for being so open to new ideas and sharing so willingly their own knowledge, experience, and concerns.

New colleagues, new topics

We have been very fortunate to not only be able to hire new faculty members, but to recruit a set of fabulous new members of our team. Johanna Schuster-Craig, one of those amazing people, brings to our program expertise on migration, especially contemporary issues surrounding the refugee crisis in Europe. Inequality and discrimination of foreigners living in Germany and Germans with a migration background has been a topic dear to my heart almost since birth. From shortly after I was born until I moved out of my parents’ house  my mother worked in an after-school program in a low-income neighborhood with a high percentage of people with migration background. During my teenage years I spent 1-2 afternoons per week at the after-school program and those experiences have shaped my life.

Discrimination and migration are of course not topics unique to Germany, but the German situation due to its history and its current position makes it different from other contexts. I am so glad that my colleague is putting time and effort into debating and sharing these issues. In her blog, New Europe: Europe and Migration, she discusses migration issues combining both American and European perspectives. If you are interested in this topic, have limited knowledge of German, but would like to learn more about German discussions about Europe and migration, you should read her blog. If you are within driving distance of East Lansing or have some unused frequent flyer miles, you should come to the Refugee Symposium, which Johanna is organizing. It is promising to be an excellent interdisciplinary discussion about refugee issues. I am so grateful for the creativity, hard work, and expertise that Johanna is bringing to our program and this event. I hope to see you there!

SLAT Roundtable – A Homecoming

At the end of last month I had the great honor and pleasure to serve as the plenary speaker at the SLAT Roundtable in Arizona and give an additional presentation for the German Studies Colloquium. It was wonderful to be back at my Alma Mater and see/hear all the amazing work that is being done there. The breadth of topics is inspiring and I realized, how much I have missed it. Thank you to SLATSA (especially Tanya Tercero) for all of the hard work that goes into organizing such a well-run conference and to SLATSA and German Studies for inviting me.

It was wonderful to reconnect with all the great people in Arizona, who have shaped my scholarly and professional identity. Thank you to all of them!


Developing Intercultural Competence

BrunsmeierOne of the themes of my personal and professional life is: random connections. Be it ending up roommates with the best friend of the wife of the son of the gallery owner, who used to exhibit my father’s art or inviting a speaker as keynote when you were the organizer of a graduate student conference, who then at a conference at her institution tells you about a job opening, to which you then apply, and end up getting hired. Some of these random connections were funny, many have positively and greatly influenced my personal and professional life and some have done both at the same time.

One of these random connections that keeps coming up is Sonja Brunsmeier. Years ago through chance she was our nanny. We stayed in touch over the years mainly for personal reasons, but as it turned out our research interests were very closely aligned as well. When we took our neighbor, a Montessori school director to Germany, we visited Sonja’s classroom in an elementary Montessori school. When I was the Resident Director for the Academic Year in Freiburg, I gave a guest lecture in her course and she eventually became a workshop leader on intercultural competence for our program. Last semester her students and my students engaged in a telecollaborative project discussing the mutual topics in our seminars. Now we are working on analyzing data collected during the project. Her expertise in telecollaboration and in intercultural competence development are once again a great asset.

Her dissertation on intercultural competence development in English as a Foreign Language classes in the elementary school just got published. I look forward to reading it soon and am certain that portions will be very relevant for the “Theory and Practice of Teaching Culture” course I teach for the German program.

Excellence in FL Instruction Using Technology


I have been teaching languages for 2 decades: 2 decades of professional development, research studies, and teaching experience (2 countries, 3 US states, 2 languages, 6 different institutions, study abroad, immersion, foreign language, second language, online, blended, face-to-face, etc.). When I started teaching at Portland State University, I was vehemently opposed to technology in the language classroom (I preferred books) and I was not convinced that a focus on communication rather than explicit grammar was the way to go (after all, I had studied Latin in Gymnasium). Obviously my experiences, my training, my students, my research, and my wonderful mentors and peers have changed my perspective and have helped me develop into a scholar, who investigates the impact of technology-mediated language learning and teaching and includes technology (mostly computer-mediated communication tools) in all of her courses.

Last year some of the wonderful students, I have had the pleasure of teaching and learning with, nominated me for the ACTFL/Cengage Learning Faculty Development Programs Awards for Excellence in Foreign Language Instruction Using Technology with IALLT (Postsecondary), which I received in November. What made this award so special is that it was the people, who I hope to positively impact through my use of technology, who took time out of their busy schedules to nominate me for the award. Thank you so very much to all of you for nominating me. I was very touched.

I was extremely honored to be selected for this award. The award is recognizing the work I have completed in curricular innovation, teaching, research, and service to the profession. Looking at the list of previous recipients, I was humbled, as the list includes the people whose work has informed and shaped me, for whom I have the utmost respect (Anne Green, Lara Lomicka, Sue Otto, and Donna VanHandle as prime examples). Thank you for all of your work, previous recipients, and thank you to the committee.

Naturally all of my work has only been possible because of

  • the excellent training I received both at Portland State University in the MA TESOL program and the University of Arizona in the SLAT doctoral program;
  • mentors who have nudged me and believed in me such as Bill Fischer, Kim Brown, Marge Terdal, and most importantly Mary Wildner-Bassett;
  • my peers, from whom I have learned so much and who are always a wonderful sounding board, most notably my SLAT-buddy Claudia Kost and also Karen Barto, Cindy Ducar, Kim Helmer, Kay Huxford;
  • the CALICO family, which has become my scholarly home and support system, most notably Nike Arnold, Lara Ducate, Bob Fischer, Gillian Lord, Scott Payne, Julie Sykes, and Steve Thorne;
  • the support of my institutions, who provided an infrastructure that made CALL practice and research possible: in particular the COhLab at the University of Arizona (especially Hale Thomas and Justin LeBreck), CLEAR (especially Dennie Hoppingarner and Joy Cambell), and CeLTA;
  • my colleagues in German at PSU, UA and MSU and Lisa Jurkowitz at PCC, who have given me the space to experiment;
  • my colleagues in SLS, who support each other to strive higher and higher;
  • my wonderful co-authors Estela Ene, Kara McBride, Theresa Schenker, Paula Winke and most importantly Angelika Kraemer;
  • the wonderful teachers with whom I have had the opportunity to work with over the years, who showed me new tricks of the trade, inspired me, and always enthusiastically stood behind new ideas (especially Natalie Eppelsheimer, Zera Otus, Tina Badstübner, Angelika Kraemer and the 201-202 instructional team at MSU (first and foremost Adam Gacs and Katie McEwen));
  •  the engaged and curious graduate and undergraduate students, who have patiently let me experiment – much of what I have learned from/with/through them has influenced my pedagogical and empirical work (especially my wonderful Doktorkinder Susan Hojnacki, Betsy Lavolette, Carly Lesoksi, Jeff Maloney, and Theresa Schenker).

Thank you to all of these amazing people, who have shaped, who I have become as a learner, mentor, researcher, teacher, and member of the profession.