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New York City
May 2002

Foreign Language Conference Encourages Study Abroad
By Katarzyna Kozanecka

Leadership was the theme of the 2002 Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL), which convened at the Hilton hotel in New York recently. According to Rebecca Kline, executive director of NECTFL, the highlight of this year’s event was a series of eight panels whose participants explored leadership from the perspective of classroom teachers, professors, students, and educators from other cultures. Several panelists and audience members zeroed in on the importance of travel in foreign language learning, especially in fostering healthy international relations.

How fitting, then, that after German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder visited the World Trade Center site on October 9, the German government and German businesses such as DaimlerChrysler created the Bridge New York-Berlin program. Thanks to this program, 25 students from four downtown Manhattan high schools–Economics and Finance, Leadership and Public Service, Murry Bergtraum, and Stuyvesant–traveled to Germany for free in February. One hundred and twenty more students from various city high schools went on March 26 and returned April 8.

Chaperoned by New York City teachers and Board of Education officials, the students toured Berlin, Munich, Heidelberg, and Cologne. Members of the first contingent were on hand when the German Media Award was presented to former Mayor Giuliani. They met the Chancellor, the American Ambassador to Germany, Daniel Coats, and the Stuttgart soccer team. The second larger group was divided among the North, South, East, and West regions of the country; their trip included a home-stay. According to Stuyvesant junior Fang Yuan, her group received less press coverage than the first. “It was almost like a nice vacation where you learn culture,” she said.

Indeed, the Bridge program seeks to introduce American students to German culture, history, and economic matters. The students’ itinerary included a visit to the Jewish museum in Berlin, a tour of the Deutsche Bahn (national railroad) training center, and meetings with German youth, both through round table discussions and an interactive TV show on Viva. Stuyvesant junior Kat Jong described Viva as “the station in Germany that competes with MTV, and gets higher ratings.”

Himanshu Suri, Vice President of the Stuyvesant Student Union, said, “We talked about September 11th almost everywhere we went.” The youth were also curious about life in America.

Knowledge of the German language was not a prerequisite for the trip; only a one-hour lesson was provided. Translators were available and the Americans agreed that the German students spoke English well. Nevertheless, Stuyvesant junior Hannah Fleury said, “ I made a big effort to pick up German. I asked a lot of questions about how to say things.” Fleury and her companions sited the four nights spent with the hospitable host family as an incredible experience.

From a leadership perspective, the home-stay allowed the kind of one-on-one interaction that Coats spoke of at his meeting with the American students in February in Baden-Baden, Germany. He told Stuyvesant junior Luciana Gravotta that she and her fellow youth ambassadors should “talk to as many people as possible, especially just normal civilians on the street.” This would give them a realistic view of the country.

At NECTFL, educators and students noted how little attention and funding is allotted for foreign language learning. Often, foreign languages are the optional courses in school because the whole world speaks English. During a panel discussion, Jordan Wicker, a high school senior representing Herricks Public Schools, attributed his high score on the SAT II Writing exam to years of Spanish study. The foreign language classroom is the place to learn about verb tenses and object pronouns as English grammar is taught less and less.

The Bridge program hopes to eventually send 1,000 New York City students to Germany in an effort to promote tolerance, cooperation, and understanding between the nations. On a grander scale, the program enhances young people’s communication skills, which are as vital on a daily basis, in communities and schools, as they are to diplomats who speak for entire governments. #

Katarzyna Kozanecka is a student at Stuyvesant High School.


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Foreign Language Conference Encourages Study Abroad