Georgia Tech Commitment to Language Studies Highlighted in German Press

Jul 12, 2012 | Atlanta, GA

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Georgia Tech students in Weimar, Germany had a red, white, and blue photo opp when local press turned out to cover their Fourth of July celebration and the Languages for Business and Technology (LBAT) work-study program they are participating in this summer.

The article below appeared in the July 6th issue of Thueringer Allgemeine Zeitung and highlighted Georgia Tech's commitment to international and language studies, many of which are led by faculty in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts School of Modern Languages. 

American Students Celebrate Independence Day in Weimar

Every summer since 2000, the German-American Bettina Cothran brings students from Atlanta to Weimar for a whole month. The city is the center of a ten-week study-abroad program through Germany that focuses on language and culture.

Wednesday evening, twenty-five young people gleefully sang "The Star Spangled Banner," the American national anthem, in the Hedwig-Pfeiffer-Haus. Between an array of white, blue, and red balloons in the garden, they flipped hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, decorated with small Stars and Stripes, the U.S. flags. Only the (canned) beer was German.

It was Independence Day, the American national holiday. At the same time, they celebrated their farewell from Weimar at this lively garden party. The young people had spent one month in the city, as part of their stay in Germany.

Their home is Atlanta, the capital of the U.S. State of Georgia, where they study at "Georgia Tech," a Technical University. This institute seems to produce any number of "Movers and Shakers", the leaders of tomorrow: managers, engineers, scientists, media designers.

For these leaders, Georgia Tech put together an international plan, which provides them with corporate internships and study-abroad opportunities. This requires knowledge of a foreign language for which, in turn, there is a program available that includes a total of eight modern languages. One of them: German.

"Our German program is very strong," says German professor Bettina Cothran, even though Spanish is dominant as a foreign language, and the Chinese are increasingly successful in making inroads. "Strengthening the German-American alliance is all the more important as China represents a growing world power," explains Professor Cothran emphatically.

She wants to contribute to this. The energetic woman from Franconia has lived in Atlanta, Georgia, for four decades and has organized an annual study-abroad trip to Germany since 2000. It begins with two and a half weeks in Düsseldorf, where the students inform themselves about the transformation of an old industrial region. This is followed by five days in Munich and two and a half weeks in Berlin.

In the middle is a month in Weimar, in which the students pick up a wealth of knowledge about German geography, culture, and Business German. Weimar is "German culture in nuce," says Bettina Cothran who fell in love with the city long ago.

If you ask third-semester students in the United States what comes to mind when they think of Germany, the answer is most often: leather pants, Mercedes, the Neuschwanstein castle, and Hitler, according to Cothran. That’s it. In the American high school curriculum, Germany is mentioned mostly in connection with World War II; European culture is taught more in connection with France.

There is a lot to catch up with: Goethe and Schiller, Liszt and Bauhaus, as well as Buchenwald. Sometimes her students would moan, Cothran says quite amused: "What, another church, another museum?"

Yet, the professor believes: all these impressions will reverberate for a long time. For Clark, for example, who studies to become an industrial engineer but later wants to become a doctor, he raves about a piano concert at the Academy of Music.

Shannon, a student of international affairs and German, who wants to be a lawyer or diplomat, adds, “Here in Weimar you can experience wonderful classical concerts for free, or for a very low price, while elsewhere one would have to fork over a lot of money.”

She also noticed in Weimar "a strong link between the musicians here and their audience." "There is nothing like this anywhere else,"says Shannon.  She was also very impressed with the visit in the Gropius-Room [the first director of the Bauhaus].

In the last thirteen years, Bettina Cothran has created a growing network in Weimar. One member is Susanne Kirchmeyer, head of the Language Center at the Bauhaus University, where the young Americans cram German. The program there is organized by the Continuing Education Office of the Bauhaus University.

Superintendent Henrich Herbst and pastor Hardy Rylke belong to this circle as well. Five years ago, they offered Dr. Bettina Cothran the use of the Hedwig-Pfeiffer-Haus. Since then, the professor has booked the Guest House of the Evangelic Lutheran Church every June. Previously, the group stayed in various dormitories, obviously an expendable experience.

Furthermore, the students get to meet interesting people from Weimar. This time, the students met City Council Member Rudolf Kessner from the Green Party and Hartmut Tucker from the Steinboss toy store.

As valuable and informative as this language and culture program is, it is quite expensive. For ten weeks in Germany the students pay US $7000. The airline ticket is not included.

"Without sponsors of this program many students could not afford it," Bettina Cothran emphasizes. The most important is the Claus-Halle-Foundation, named after a German who started as a driver for Coca-Cola in Essen in 1947 and made it to the position of Chief Executive of Coca-Cola International in Atlanta within 45 years.

The Foundation contributes up to $2,000 per student and up to $5,000 for study-abroad semesters in Germany. Foundation Director Marnite B. Calder hopes that in the future, she can also bring German students to Atlanta.

By the way, Calder was the only one at the garden party who knew that there is a difference between a Coke from the Atlanta headquarters and one sold by the branch in Weimar: the syrup is the same worldwide, but the water is not. Interestingly enough, none of the students drank Coke in Weimar.

Photo by Maik Schuck: Students from Georgia Tech in Atlanta celebrated Independence Day and their farewell from the city of Weimar in the garden of the Hedwig-Pfeiffer-Haus. In the first row: The German-American Professor of German Studies Bettina Cothran (2nd from right) and the Director of the Claus-Halle-Foundation, Marnite B. Calder (right). 

Article by Michael Helbing. English Translation by School of Modern Languages faculty Britta Kallin and Bettina Cothran.

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