As you may know, I am also a German teacher and as such I welcome people from all over the world in my classroom. It may well happen that every student comes from another country and we count around ten nations. Right now we combine six from three continents. Nigeria and Eritrea/Africa, Mongolia, Nepal and Syria/Asia, Switzerland/Europe (that is obviously me :-)). It is a privilege to learn from one another and form a space of trust, respect, and kindness.
We learn about the most important festivities in those countries (as Nowruz in Iran), for example, including the clothes worn, the gifts given, and the food served. All shared in German, of course.
For pretty much every topic we talk about, we find so many more similarities than differences between us. Sometimes I am taken aback how very alike even religious ceremonies are across religions. Be it the time of the year and the way they are celebrated, or the reasons for and the beliefs behind them. To realise this in a room with people who believe in four or five different religions or have none at all, is magical.
What everyone also has in common is a generous heart and a sense of community. Food is always shared. Weddings in those countries are a feast for the whole neighbourhood. The whole village. Everyone who passes by really. Several hundred people. No invitation needed, just word of mouth. I came to learn, food is always generously shared.
A wonderful NGO called Cuisine Sans Frontières – French for “Kitchen without borders” – successfully builds on that principle and provides kitchens and places to cook, eat, and talk together in areas with social conflicts.
We all need to eat, why not share our table with others. I recently read a quote I really liked:
“When you have more than you need, build a bigger table not a higher fence.”
So after many months of focused learning, my class and I decided to leave the classroom for a change and have a picnic together. It goes without saying that we shared specialties from each country and everyone contributed to the buffet. Summer school holidays this year was a perfect time to do it. While one parent studied German everyday, the children actually had long school holidays and were looked after by the other parent or in child care. On one beautiful morning we all brought our goodies and made ourselves comfortable in the shade of tall trees in a city park next to the University.
To have some more fun with languages and of course especially German, we played. The game is called “Montagsmaler” in German. A person thinks of a word and pantomimes the meaning of it. All the others try to find out what it is. It is a great way to train the vocabulary and creativity. The kids were naturally best at it and could hardly stop. But we all laughed a lot when guessing words like teenager, Santa Claus, soccer star (a boy’s idea ;0)), wedding, frog etc.
We had more than enough food on our table on that day and could have invited almost everybody who rushed to University or strolled through the park. Next time, I will make it a priority for the students to train their German, follow their heart and go forward inviting people to our table. What a wonderful experience on all levels this would be!
Language sometimes is a barrier as people are afraid to talk in the newly learned foreign language or they have – unfortunately – made bad experiences. But I am sure with my being around and helping if needed, they can have some nice encounters and save golden memories as in the wonderful movie Inside Out (Alles steht Kopf auf Deutsch).
From my point of view, a conversation builds a bridge the way shared food does. Combined they are an unbeatable force for more understanding and positive change.
Hopefully, this encourages you to leave your comfort zone now and then and you look for those opportunities to talk to someone you do not know and maybe enjoy a cup of tea or coffee with her or him. And don’t forget to have some chocolate cake :-), too.
With the best wishes for heartfelt conversations,