Lessons from the German Boys
Some of you already know about my “German Boys”. They inspire today’s letter. For those of you unaware of what I am talking about, here’s a brief background.
Both in High School and College I was an exchange student in Germany. During that time I became acquainted with several Germans who remain some of my closest friends. I visit Germany almost every year. In 1997, these friends had a son, Jannik. Jannik, now 19, asked me several years ago if he could stay with me in the U.S. one day “when he was older.” We made that happen this year and Jannik brought a buddy, Lukas. Together, they are the “German Boys” and have now been with me and my spouse (Jacob) for almost 3 months.
Sometimes the personal things we experience help us see life with a new perspective. A few years ago I wrote a Friday Letter called “Lessons from a Home Renovation”. Today, I want to share some lessons I’ve learned from the boys. They have taught me that I take certain things for granted.
#1, Communication is more than language fluency.
Th boys don’t speak perfect English. In fact, having them here has made clear just how hard English can be given all of the exceptions to our grammar rules. Yet, we have rich conversations and have talked about everything from politics to cultural comparisons, from hobbies to hardships, from relationships to responsibilities. And despite their lack of fluency, we always make the conversation work because we are patient with each other and invested in each other.
#2, Driving is a privilege.
To get your driver’s license in Germany, you have to go through a rigorous 6-month training course, be 18, and pay thousands of dollars. And, if you are able to afford a car, gas prices are about 3x what we pay in the U.S. With that said, the boys are exceptional drivers and don’t take driving for granted. I wonder how U.S. culture would change if we did the same thing. Maybe parking wouldn’t be so bad on campus.
#3, I’m not 19 anymore.
I chose this profession (college administration) for several reasons. One of them was that I like being around young people and the energy they bring. Having young people around 24-7 has been a different story. And maybe unlike the parenting of teenagers, these teenagers want to be around me and my spouse a.l.l. t.h.e. t.i.m.e. We love them unconditionally, but keeping up with their drive to rarely sleep and keep going…it’s tested the limits of this 40-something body. I’m keeping up, but I’ve had more hamburgers and cola in the last 3 months than I’ve had in the last 5 years. That’s no joke. Health is important to me and this experience drives me to not take that for granted. I’m pretty sure my Group Health Wellness Exam this week will not be as stellar as last year’s.
The Germans have a hard time with this. On one hand, national pride in the accomplishments of the German people is important to the boys. On the other hand, a nationalistic attitude coupled with a superiority complex and great propaganda led to the rise of Hitler. They are sensitive to this as well. It is eye-opening to hear a 19-year old young man, from a different country, repeatedly state as he watches the news that the U.S. seems to be headed down the same path as Germany from 1933 to 1945. This is from an outsider’s perspective and not one laced by personal bias about the U.S. political system. I have shared with the boys our Campus Pledge and our commitment to supporting all peoples on campus. They have noticed this attitude not only at Cascadia, but generally around the Seattle area. They’ve been welcomed everywhere with enthusiasm.
#5, We have an impact.
And finally, the impact we as adults have on young people is profound. The boys have created memories and artifacts that they hope will last their lifetimes. They understand that they will never again have this opportunity to explore the world without the responsibility of a job or family. And they have appreciated the mentorship and support provided by Jacob and me. As I translate that into a Cascadia-ism…we as faculty and staff have profound impacts on not just our international students, but our domestic students as well. We transform lives by mentoring, we create memories for them via this experience at Cascadia, and we help our students not take the world for granted.
I hope we don’t take our privileges for granted either.
Have a great President’s Day weekend.
Eric, Jannik, Lukas, and Jacob at Redwoods National Forest, December 2016