This summer, Kelly Reid, Cheyne Jones and Peyton King – all three minoring in German – were the first University of North Georgia (UNG) students to enroll at the Goethe-Institut, the premiere global German language and cultural organization, thanks to a partnership that also allowed them to earn foreign language credits.
Goethe has 159 institutes around the world and every year more than half a million teenagers, college students and working professionals take German language courses or exams through Goethe, which for 60 years has served as the official, worldwide cultural institute of Germany. To become a German citizen, one must earn certification in the language and culture from Goethe.
"You're more fully immersed here because you have so many people from other countries who don't speak English or very little English and so the only way you can communicate is through the German you both know," said Reid, a UNG student majoring in athletic training and physical education.
The students found it necessary to understand German at every turn: in class, going on a cultural outing, taking a bus or train, buying food or other necessities, or even talking with a classmate.
"The Goethe experience was more than just credits for my minor; it was a life experience. I was tested daily with new issues, and it greatly improved my responsibility and problem-solving skills," King said. "Every day I learned more about how to speak the language, the culture, and other people. No other program would have given me the academic and personal growth as the Goethe-Institut."
Jones, a cadet majoring in criminal justice, said his experience at Goethe strengthened his German skills and changed his perspective.
"People from all over the world come to Goethe to learn German, and I get to ask them about the cultural differences around the world," Jones said. "I definitely am learning a lot more of the German culture and of the world, but it's opening my perspective on everything really."
Goethe courses are taught by native speakers and focus on language use in real-life and practical situations, said Susanne Sporrer, director of the Goethe-Institut in Freiburg.
The agreement between UNG and the Goethe-Institut, signed last fall in Munich, Germany, developed out of a long partnership with the Goethe-Zentrum (Center) in Atlanta. The Atlanta location, which is one of 34 cultural organizations partnered with the Goethe-Institut worldwide, celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.
"The Goethe-Institut saw that there was mutual benefit for both organizations, especially if you see that we're both looking for an institute of high quality, and the Goethe-Institut saw that in UNG and in UNG's mission, its approach and particularly in its foreign language programs," Miriam Bruns, director of Goethe Zentrum Atlanta, said.
Dr. Roland Meinert, director of Goethe's institutes and centers in Germany, likened the experience Goethe provides in Germany to eating a meal rather than just knowing how to make it.
"You can read many recipes and think, 'Hmm, it might be tasty,'" Meinert said. "It's not enough to read about that. And it's the same thing with language. A language is only one thing that gives you the experience. You have to live in the country, use the language and know how people react. You have to interact with people – that's important. If you wouldn't eat, it wouldn't be fun."
To learn more about the Goethe-Institut partnership, read the full story in the fall 2016 issue of UNG Magazine.