Summer German program gets a birthday present

Alone in Berlin, Audrey Wiest and her friend needed a place to stay.

Alone in Berlin, Audrey Wiest and her friend needed a place to stay. Wiest called a professor that she had met in the United States at the Deutsche Sommerschule am Pazifik, and he found the two a place to stay, had them over for dinner several times, and took them on a tour of East Berlin.

“It’s amazing, the relationships that form,” said Wiest, who is now a teaching assistant in the Portland State German program, of the summer school.

One of a kind, the Sommerschule am Pazifik (translated: summer school in the Pacific) is a five-week immersion program during the summer that has students pledge to speak nothing but German for the duration of their stay. About to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary this summer, the Sommerschule was given a big present: a $41,000 grant from the Max Kade Institute.

The Max Kade Institute, a part of the University of Wisconsin, is a program that studies German-American relations through research and outreach. The institute has given the Sommerschule about $30,000 a year since 1993, but gave more this year because of the program’s anniversary.

Kathie Godfrey, program manager for the school, said that the scholars and faculty from overseas come courtesy of the Kade money, along with other resources such as films and guest lecturers.

“These grants are incredibly important,” said Dr. Steven Fuller, director of the Sommerschule. “We do everything we can to keep the tuition down.”

Currently, tuition for the five weeks is around $3,000. Godfrey said that this is the first year room and board costs have surpassed tuition cost.

The Sommerschule is held at Lewis and Clark College and rents out the entire campus, including dormitories where many students live for five weeks. It has been held there since 1974, having previously been located at Reed College and Marylhurst University.

One of the most important things about the program, said Godfrey, is the experiential learning. Students study German films, and visiting artists and scholars give lectures to inform about German culture.

A portion of the grant goes to running the Max Kade Lecture Series-lectures during Sommerschule based on one theme. This year’s theme is “50 Years of German Culture and History,” to coincide with the anniversary.

The students write a newspaper in German and produce a play in German at the end of the five weeks. There are trips to the coast and mountains to show off Oregon to visitors.

“I sometimes feel like half professor, half cruise director,” said Fuller, who has been director of the school since 1992. The co-founder of the Sommerschule, Dr. Franz Langhammer, still comes back and teaches a class or two.

Fifty years after the program first started, there are now over 2,000 alumni.

The Sommerschule is open to anyone who has had the equivalent of two years of college German. It leads up to a master’s degree in German, one of the first master’s degrees ever offered at PSU.

“The German department here is really successful,” Fuller said. He described this as “bucking the trend” because there is a high attrition rate of German programs at other universities. “German is very, very healthy here.”

Many students attend the Sommerschule to prepare for exchange programs. It is the equivalent of one year of language courses in five weeks. After the five weeks, there is an additional week of training for high school and college teachers.

Fuller said people used to attend Sommerschule to get unique classes, but now come to earn credits. Students are able to gain up to 12 college credits during the five-week stay.

Due to decreasing German programs, Fuller said that some colleges have worked out exchanges with PSU so students can complete requirements.

“There are reasons to learn all languages,” Godfrey said. Though Spanish is becoming the language of necessity in the United States, German is still used in business, music and politics, Godfrey said.

Wiest is working towards her German master’s degree. She said that the Sommerschule was invaluable for developing her accent and speech patterns. Despite the current popularity of Spanish as a second language, German appealed more to Wiest.

“Everybody else was taking Spanish, and I didn’t want to be like everyone else,” Wiest said.

Her own family’s German heritage made her interested in the language. She lived in Germany for a year and a half as a missionary for her church.

“Spanish is definitely the most useful language,” she said, because of the part of the world she lives in. German has its place as well in the business world, she said.

“It’s really fun,” Wiest said about the Sommerschule. “I would love to do it again.”