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Meet Melina: ‘Living abroad has made me realise I am more German than I thought I was’

An international student at UC SYD Haderslev

19-year-old Melina from Germany shares her story of how she fell in love with everything Danish, and reveals that she has not once worn a dirndl.

Melina is smiling
Photo of Melina by Lisbeth Burich

I’m from a city called Wolfsburg which is pretty much defined by Volkswagen. It’s the number one employer in Wolfsburg and it funds the local football team as well as basically everything else in the city. But it has a dark legacy: Wolfsburg was actually established by Hitler to house workers of his cherished ‘People’s Car’ factory. And it gets worse. During WW2 car manufacturing was put on hold and forced labour as well as prisoners of war were brought in instead to produce military equipment. It’s a part of our history that we don’t talk about in Wolfsburg — I only found out because of a random history lesson back in school.

People think that in Germany we walk around in lederhosen all the time. I noticed that a lot of the German clichés originate in Bavaria. Somehow this one region has come to represent all of Germany. It’s totally inaccurate. I’ve never worn a dirndl (female counterpart to lederhosen) in my life.

Living abroad has made me realise I am more German than I thought I was. When I was younger, I didn’t feel I had particularly German mannerisms. Then I went to Ireland for a year, staying with an Irish host family. Almost straight away my host ‘dad’ told me, “You are always on time, that is so German!”. And he was completely on point. I do like to be on time because I don’t want to keep other people waiting. While I lived in Germany, I guess I took this for granted — but now that I am out of Germany, I realise that not everyone shares my way of thinking.

When I was 17, my school class did an exchange with a high school class in Roskilde. When the Danes turned up at my high school, I instantly took a liking to them. They were super cool and had such effortless style. A few months later we went to see them in Roskilde. I had never been in Denmark before and I was struck by how different everything was compared to Germany. It surprised me. With Denmark being so close to Germany geographically, you’d think the culture would be similar, too. I made friends in Copenhagen and found myself going back to Denmark again and again. When the time came for applying to university, Denmark made perfect sense. I chose this degree in particular because it enables you to work as a teacher in Denmark, and I want to build a future here that extends beyond studying.

My mum is anxious about me studying a full degree abroad. Haderslev is only a 4,5 hour drive from my home town, but still she thinks it’s too far away. Then on top of that there is the possibility that I will stay in Denmark even after I finish the course. It took her a while to accept that I was actually going to ahead with this, but I think at some point she had the realisation that this is my choice and there is not really much she can do about it, haha! It also helped that I am doing a Teaching course rather than History, which is what I would have gone for had I stayed in Germany. There is this cliché in Germany that History graduates all end up as taxi drivers, so I think my mum was relieved when I told her I had opted for teacher training instead. It is important to her that I choose a path that offers some level of job security, so she would have not have been happy with me studying History or some other subject within Humanities.

I like the way the teaching degree is structured in Denmark. It makes sense to integrate work experience (‘Praktik’) very early on, because at the end of the day this is what will give you an idea of whether you want to become a teacher or not. In Germany you study your subject for five years and only then do you start your teacher training. I know of people back home who have studied for years and then, when they finally get the opportunity to hone their skills in a classroom, they discover that teaching is not for them.

The Danish language is deceptive. It reads much like German, but the pronunciation is totally different. I’ve been listening to Danish music to familiarise myself with the language. I especially like The Minds of 99. I also found a few Danish shows on Netflix which I watched with English subtitles, like Rita and The Rain. I was spending my free time watching these shows in my last year of school back in Germany and my friends were like, ‘why are you doing this when you should be revising for your Spanish exam?!’. It’s this fascination that I can’t really explain. I’m drawn to everything Danish.

I have a nice view of Burger King from my window. My flat is so close to the university I can see some of the campus buildings, too. One of the perks of living in a small town like Haderslev is that everything is close by. I’m a city-type person so the only reservation I had about going to study in Haderslev was the fact that it’s so small. But now that I am here, I really enjoy the fact that my friends are all nearby and it’s easy to meet up. I thought I would miss the anonymity of living in a big city, but it’s actually kind of nice that every time you set foot outside your apartment here in Haderslev you will probably run into someone you know.

I believe that drama has the power to transform people. Back in Germany I was involved in a local theatre project which was open to everyone and so it attracted large numbers of refugees. Many of them did not speak any German initially and it was amazing to see how this theatre project lifted them up and had such a profound impact on them. Two years later these same refugees had jobs and spoke the language fluently. The thing about drama is it offers a release; it lets you escape everyday life, and at the same time it pushes you out of your comfort zone, which is key to personal development.

I love playing the guitar. I was never taught properly but whenever I sing, I just try to accompany myself with the guitar. Music is therapeutic for me. Whenever I feel stressed or in a bad mood, I pick up the guitar and have a song and it makes me feel better.

I’ve never been very good with kids. My greatest doubt about doing teacher training is the children, haha! Then on the other hand there is something very attractive about being in a position where you are not only teaching kids their ABCs but where you actually have the chance to shape your students as human beings. The aspect of education that is about personal maturation, or ‘Bildung’, as we call it Germany, is what I am passionate about. On a side note, we visited a school last week and I was amazed to find that the kids were the best part of the whole experience. So there is hope yet.

Teacher Education

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