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A Free Study Tour in Germany for Social Studies and STEM Teachers With TOP

Vacha, Germany, as seen on Karen's study tour.

Vacha, Germany, as seen on Karen’s study tour.

Teaching Traveling: Check out this free study tour in Germany, as explained by an Illinois teacher who just completed the program, returning Teaching Traveling interviewee, Karen Krzystof-Bansley! Karen, tell us more about this amazing travel opportunity.

Karen: Sure! The Transatlantic Outreach Program (TOP) is a free two-week study tour in Germany for American and Canadian Social Studies and STEM teachers, run by the Goethe Institute. Yes, you heard that right: international flights, hotels, and food are financially covered, and the itinerary is incredible!

Karen with her study tour group in Germany, meeting a Holocaust survivor.

Karen with her study tour group in Germany, meeting a Holocaust survivor.

TT: Wow! How did you find out about the TOP?

K: When I was participating in a NEH workshop in July of 2015, I roomed with a TOP fellow. She raved about her experience traveling through Germany and introduced me to the program.

Basically, after an application process, approximately 100 teachers are chosen each summer to be TOP fellows. We had a jam packed schedule that included school visits, lectures from professors, city tours and lots of opportunities to sample German cuisine. Here is the TOP website for more information.

TT: Love it. Tell me about some of your favorite experiences on this trip.

A German home visit in Passau.

A German home visit in Passau.

K: My two-week study tour in Germany through the Transatlantic Outreach Program was full of memorable experiences, however I’ll focus on my “TOP” five experiences in Germany (in no particular order).

#1. Berlin: Listening to Margot Friedlander (94 year old author and Holocaust survivor) read aloud from her autobiography, Try to Make your Life. She gave inspiration and shared words of wisdom. Hearing her speak was an amazing experience I will never forget.

There are few living eyewitnesses of this period of history left and I’m appreciative that I had this opportunity.

Memorial sites, such as the Monuments to the Murdered Jews of Europe and stolpersteins (stumbling stones), are important places to visit and reflect upon history. The Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a massive site in the middle of Berlin. The site contains a museum underground as well.

Stumbling stones, on the other hand, are small monuments that are spread out throughout Europe. The cobble sized brass plates remember individual victims of Nazi persecution. There are over 50,000 of them throughout Europe making it the world’s largest decentralized memorial.

#2: Another “TOP” experience was passing out German picture dictionaries to children at the Friedland transitional center/refugee camp. My 6th grade students from Burbank, IL wrote personalized messages in each book. Alice, another TOP fellow from the Chicago area, brought colored pencils for the kids. It was a perfect match, and we didn’t even plan it ahead of time! The children were grateful for the gifts. (Sometimes the best gift for a teacher is to give to others!)

Bringing supplies to children in a refugee camp.

Bringing supplies to children in a refugee camp.

#3: After eating a fabulous dinner (outside of Bach’s childhood home in Eisanach), we decided to take a 10 p.m. cab ride to Wartburg Castle. Our intended purpose was to take a photograph in front of the famous castles (where Martin Luther translated the Bible into German) and be on our way.

However, there was a hip-hop concert taking place there so we decided to stay. It was such an interesting experience having a Modern German experience (surrounded by mainly teenagers and young adults) in a place built in the Middle Ages.

Let’s just say that I enjoyed the experience so much that I bought souvenirs: a t-shirt and a CD full of German hip hop music. What an interesting evening. Way better than calling it a night after dinner.

The lovely architecture of Quedlinburg, Germany.

The lovely architecture of Quedlinburg, Germany.

#4: We had the unique opportunity to eat dinner and visit with a family in Passau, Germany. We divided into groups of three and were assigned to various families. Our retired couple was very welcoming and we chatted for hours. Topics such as the refugee situation in Germany, the upcoming US election and education were discussed. The couple were outstanding hosts and the night was memorable.

#5: Meeting such a fabulous group of like-minded teachers was yet another perk of this trip. The professional and personal bonds will last for years and years to come.

TT: These experiences are phenomenal! Would you recommend this professional development to other teachers?

K: YES, with no reservations whatsoever. This was the TOP professional development experience that I’ve had. (No pun intended.) See this link for more reasons TOP is the best.

TT: How will you use what you’ve learned from this trip?

K: I’ve written a lesson plan about memorial sites and their significance. Ideally I would like to read aloud/literature circle study of Try to Make Your Life. I’m excited to have a new network of colleagues and we’re already throwing around the idea of a reunion tour!

TT: Thanks so much, Karen! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?

Jeremy in Queenstown, New Zealand.
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