Letter from Ulm: The Hans Joohs experience

Letter from Ulm

Jon Braegelmann, the 2017 Hans Joohs Sister Cities Exchange Intern, recently returned home to New Ulm from Ulm Germany. Below is his third and final article about his internship in Ulm/Neu Ulm, Germany. He gives us insights to his working experiences, living with host families and his interactions with the people of Ulm/Neu Ulm and the German countryside.

From May through July this summer I took part in the Hans Joohs Exchange Program in Ulm/Neu Ulm. This long-standing exchange program allowed me to experience the daily life of family, work, and free time in Germany, specifically the home region of New Ulm’s original settlers. I’d like to give an overview of my experiences there and underscore the unique opportunity this program offers.

In my first internship, I supported English teachers at the Robert Bosch Schule, a technical gymnasium on the west side of Ulm. The school teaches students grades 8 through 13, preparing students for the dreaded Abitur, the all-important test at the end of the 13th class. A passing grade on the Abitur is what students use to apply for university, so it’s a nerve-wracking finals week before summer break. Rather than attending university, plenty of students at the school were planning to attend Fachhochschule or do an Ausbildung. Both of these are a mix of formal classroom education and practical work experience. From my time studying German, I knew access to a native speaker was invaluable, so I was excited to provide help to students learning English. Language is practical regardless of the subject. You can get almost any student to practice with you as long as you know what to talk about.

The students I taught were loud and energetic, like any kids their age, but they were also kind and considerate. The German teachers were rather surprised by their students’ sudden interest in the lesson material. I gave presentations about the history of New Ulm, a trip I took to Alaska with my brothers (wide expanses of uninhabited nature are fascinating to many Germans), and even short lessons in American slang. Students were eager to ask questions about daily life in Minnesota – school, sports, and free time were frequent topics of interest. Students were also curious about hunting and gun culture, because Germany is a country with strict gun controls.

Despite the fun experiences at Robert Bosch Schule, I was especially excited for my second internship with the City of Ulm. In June, I started with the city department called SUB V. SUB V is the fifth department of Stadtplanung (City Planning), Umwelt (Environment), und Baurecht (Building Law). SUB V is responsible for environmental law (Umweltrecht) and industry oversight (Gewerbeaufsicht). They do everything from monitoring protected areas and endangered species to soil and groundwater protection and cleaning up brownfield sites. If you’re familiar with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), SUB V has similar responsibilities for the City of Ulm. I reported directly to Dr. Kristina Schenk, SUB V’s lead geologist. She is responsible for brownfield sites, groundwater protection, and soil conservation. As an intern, my main task was reconstructing the groundwater database for the City’s historical “gaswork,” a project with over 20 years of groundwater quality data. This involved learning the state’s software and visiting the lab to find missing data. Dr. Schenck also brought me along for a variety of different site visits in Southwest Germany. My time with SUB V is an experience I’ll never forget.

One of the best things about the Hans Joohs Program was the opportunity to connect with new people. My host family brought me to birthday parties, kindergarten graduations, and family trips into southern Germany. We celebrated together, explored together, and developed truly familial bonds. Through my host family, I was able to go hunting and fishing with Wolfgang in Neusäß and go mineral hunting in Austria with Gottfried. The German exchange coordinators were invaluable; Frau Hemminger, Steffen Haner, and Dr. Hartung pulled logistical strings, helped me settle in, and gave me both platform to share my hometown and opportunity to learn about theirs. For those involved in the Program on both sides of the pond, you have my gratitude.

The Hans Joohs Program is an incredible program. I felt supported and looked after, and the people I met were excited to learn, share, and invite me in for a beer. To everyone reading this article: tell someone you know about the Hans Joohs Program. It’s a singular chance to experience German life, have memorable adventures, and make lifelong friends. To those of you considering applying in the coming years: don’t think twice. Take the opportunity.

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