Germany: A Home Away from Home
Sisters Elaine and Amanda Benke share a passion for the German language and culture. The natives of Inver Grove Heights, MN, heard a lot about their German heritage growing up, and fell in love with the language once they began studying it in high school. Now, as a college senior and sophomore, respectively, they are each pursuing a minor in German. Amanda, an architecture major, cannot imagine not studying German. “Germany is my other home,” she says. “You just gotta keep learning about it.”
Design, science, and German
Elaine, a biochemistry major graduating this May, appreciates how studying in the humanities has expanded her worldview. She credits a course she took on Germany and the environment as teaching her to “be compassionate towards other people, cultures and their customs.” Amanda has had a similar experience. “You grow up thinking that life is one way,” she says. But “then you learn a different language, watch [foreign] films, visit [another] country, join [a new] culture and you learn there are so many different ways to view the world.”
They both appreciate studying in a small and welcoming academic department. Elaine has enjoyed meeting and interacting with fellow German enthusiasts through her classes in GSD, and says that involvement in the department has made her time at the University so much better than it would have been without it. One thing that Amanda likes about studying the language is the consistency. “In other classes you don’t get to practice what you learn everyday,” she says. “When I go to my German class, I know I’m going to be speaking, writing, listening and learning in that language. It’s an active and engaging subject. I love that about German.”
They have both found German to be the perfect complement to their majors in design and science. Germany is a world leader in sustainable design, and Amanda hopes that her German language and cultural skills will help her build a career as an architect. Elaine would love to work in foreign relations, fostering connections between the United States and Germany. Regardless of where she ends up, she hopes to join a German-American society and continue to be a part of the global community of German-speakers.
Last summer, the sisters traveled to Berlin to immerse themselves in the German way of life. When they weren’t taking classes on German literature and culture, they explored the city and other parts of the country. They strolled through museums and parks, visited historical landmarks, and relished finding small things that revealed bits of German culture—from attending the theater and admiring architecture to watching musicians in the park and wandering the aisles of a food market. “You can tell a lot about a culture from the grocery stores,” Amanda says. They especially enjoyed sampling the local cuisine, even establishing a tradition of Döner Donnerstag—a bit like Taco Tuesday—seeking out new restaurants that served the dish, which was invented by Turkish immigrants in Berlin.
The trip was one of the most influential experiences of their college careers. Not only did they get to see the places they were studying, they also met people who could bring their learning to a new level. They were particularly impressed with a literature instructor who taught them about the Berlin Wall by sharing about her own experiences living in divided Berlin. “Everything we talked about and read in our classes was so relevant to what we were experiencing outside of the classroom,” Elaine says.
The two sisters agree that studying German has brought them closer as siblings and helped each of them to grow as individuals—both inside and out of the classroom.