From Kansas City to Meissen
The Freie Werkschule in Meißen has had a young employee from the USA since September: Eleanor Wegener, 22 years old. Function: school assistant.
Meissen. Eleanor Wegener stands in the hallway of the Freie Werkschule and greets us in German. In perfect, accent-free German. How does that work? The young woman explains that she has trained herself off this rolling in the typical Ami accent. She laughs. Her last name also sounds familiar. “Yes, my ancestors were German,” she says. Eleanor is actually at home in the American Midwest, more precisely in Kansas City. In the part of town that is in the state of Missouri. Home is a broad term for the young student. At the moment it is the Pieschen district of Dresden and the Freie Werkschule – at least for twelve hours a week.
Eleanor walked a lot as a child. “I was born in the state of Michigan. Then my family moved to Kansas City. Then I went to Brisbane in Australia for twelve years. My father had to go there for work. Then back to Kansas City,” she says. She has been to Germany a few times. At 14 on a class trip, at 16 on an exchange year at a high school in Baden-Württemberg. She later enrolled in the state of Indiana – for the courses “German” and “International Economics and Cultural Affairs”. She benefited from the fact that she learned our language in high school. There were also a few courses in German literature. “It just interested me,” she admits.
In debt from a young age
These are not particularly popular courses, at least not at her university. “Of course, before you start studying, you think about how you can later earn good money,” says Eleanor. Many therefore enrolled in business-oriented courses. With your studies, you usually become a German teacher. Studying in the USA is associated with high costs. Most of the time, young people take out loans that they then carry around with them for many years. “In your early 20s you quickly owe 50,000 euros,” says Eleanor. President Biden recently wanted to give every student $10,000 to get started. Whether it will come to that is uncertain.
After two years at the university in Indiana, Eleanor decided to spend a year abroad. That fell just in the Corona period. “The semester in Tübingen ran exclusively online. There were hardly any opportunities to get to know the professors or friends,” she says. To earn some money, she works at a mini cake baker, helped out in the café and drove to weekly markets. “I really had my problems with the Swabian dialect at first,” she laughs. For the second semester she moved to Cambridge in England. Here she met her boyfriend, who was born in Croatia.
Back in the States, Eleanor found out about the so-called “Fulbright Program”, named after the US Senator J. William Fulbright (1905 to 1995). It allocates places, for example as “English Teaching Assistants” (assistant teachers for English) at German schools. Only 200 places, including scholarships, are offered in the States each year. Eleanor got hold of one and was assigned Saxony. “I had heard of Saxony,” she admits. bad? “No, a video on YouTube about the dialect,” she says. She’s been in the city since September, and the young American actually had to get used to the language first. With “isch” and “nee” she is now clear. She also knows what a cell phone is. What is striking, however, is how many English words are used in German.
Finding a connection is not easy
Have you ever been to New York? Are there really yellow school buses in the USA? Have you seen cheerleaders? The sixth graders in particular peppered the new girl with questions. The students from the tenth grade were rather reserved. “The 13th grade was mostly about politics,” says Eleanor. She has talked a lot about the USA in the last few weeks. “It was helpful that I can now look at my homeland from the outside,” she says. She attended the grape harvest and is a guest in geography class this week. It’s about North America. Otherwise, she supports the teachers in English lessons and helps students with weaker languages, among other things. Her goal: to take over a complete lesson in the future.
“In the beginning, my role here wasn’t really clear. In addition, the teaching staff didn’t have much time. They’re all older than me and have families,” says the student. Finding a connection in Germany is not exactly easy. “It’s different in the USA. People are more open. But you have to say that interest quickly dwindles again,” laughs Eleanor. At first she lived with her tutor. In the meantime she has found a flat share in Dresden. She feels comfortable with her two roommates. And homesickness?
“When I’m in the USA, I miss Europe. When I’m here, I think of my family,” she says. Her father supports her, her mother worries a little. You stay in touch via WhatsApp. The messenger service is not as widespread in the USA as it is here. “My parents downloaded it because of me,” says the 22-year-old. Normally, communication in America is via Facebook Messenger or classic SMS. Not the only difference.
Short distances in Germany
“What I think is great about Germany: you’re quick at the sea, fast in the mountains or in Italy,” she says. That’s true, if you take American conditions as a basis. “It’s at least eight hours by car from our home to Chicago. It’s even ten hours to the nearest beach.” The public transport offer here is also better than at home. A major difference to home is apparently also the diet. “Organic products are very common in Germany. In the States, it’s more for chic people,” she says. Overall, Germans pay more attention to what they eat than people in the US.
What struck her, of course, was the German thoroughness. “When it came to drawing a table, I did it freehand. The students, on the other hand, took out their rulers and pencils first,” smiles Eleanor. There is certainly more to tell, for example that her brother, who is a mechanic, only has six days paid vacation a year. Holidays are already included.
The program initially runs until June 2023. After that, there is the option to extend your stay – in Meissen or somewhere else. Eleanor wants to extend and stay in Germany. She is flirting with further studies and would like to take up a professorship later. You get the feeling she likes to travel the world. And can’t help it. “To be honest, I just get along better with people from other countries than with the people at home,” says the young woman.