The paths of Germany’s lustrous countryside were riddled with crushed leaves. Their dull, orange hue, an offbeat offset to the vibrant green captured in the surrounding vegetation on the hills. The deep midnight blue still present in the sky, a hint at the early hour.
Former PCC student, Veronica Galvez, woke to this beautiful natural setting daily. The peaceful scene became her daily commute during her first trip abroad. She would bike along the paths to get to the local brewery where she worked.
In her time away, Galvez spent her days abroad traipsing through the likes of Munich, marvelling at the scale of the Berlin Wall, and resided in hostels near Amsterdam.
Galvez, who studied abroad after one semester of German at PCC, was among the first Germania club students to do so through the Sister Cities program. Founded in 1956, the program aims to promote positive cross cultural communication, offering a citizen exchange program from the city of Pasadena to cities in Germany, Japan, Armenia, China, and Finland.
The experience abroad and involvement in Germania helped Galvez establish connections within the international community, helping her earn her first internship at Sister Cities.
“[PCC] gave me my first full blown exposure to German culture, it’s awesomeness and opened my mind to what I could do with the language,” she said.
Similarly, learning German exposed Germania club president, Olivia Bueno, to historical facets of German culture that she otherwise would not have acknowledged. The fall of the Berlin Wall, in particular, had a profound effect on her perception of the country.
“It wasn’t the German government or the United States…it was the German citizens who literally brought down the walls,” said Bueno. “And if you think about it these days it’s relevant to us because we’re talking about having a presidency that wants to build a wall just south of the border…Seeing history repeat itself is very valuable.”
Germania club’s passion is also evident in its inclusivity. Students in the club volunteer their time in the library biweekly for tutoring sessions. These weekly events are open to all students, faculty, or staff interested in learning German. Notably, they also appealed to the Sister Cities Committee, prompting them to raise the age limit for the study abroad program from 25 to 30.
“We talked about the demographics at PCC,” said Bueno. “It doesn’t only serve people who are planning to attend a university but also parents who are just coming to take a foreign language or a photography class. It’s amazing how PCC reaches out to an entire community.”
Galvez is now a German Studies major at Cal State Long Beach, though budget cuts at her high school almost put an end to her career, as they led to the termination of the German program. Bueno notes that PCC is one of the few community colleges to offer a complete German program. Most only offer introductory courses to fulfill foreign language requirements.
“Now the fact that a student has actually transferred and studied at a German university I think speaks very highly not only of Veronica’s skills and talent but also the successes that our small German program can have,” says Bueno.
Galvez fears that the limited language courses speaks to the systemic privileging of English and Western culture over other languages.
“It can only be beneficial [to learn German] especially if you’re trying to be culturally tolerant,” said Galvez. “Learning different languages gives you different experiences into other cultures and allows you to communicate differently with other people… it opens up your mind.”
“Having the opportunity to learn a foreign language, it’s not just about the ability to speak to somebody else,” echoes Bueno. “You also get to learn about their history and their culture.”
Galvez’ experience in Germany has shaped the course of her life. She lights up at the prospect of German culture and artists, noting one her favorite German authors: Franz Kafka.
“It is pretty bleak but you could make a miniature show or Twilight Zone themed show about Kafka stories,” she said excitedly.
Meanwhile, Bueno owes an entire lifestyle change to German culture. She had never considered herself a staunch supporter of the green movement before visiting Germany. However, once there, she quickly learned the importance of recycling. Freundlich für die Umwelt, which is loosely translated as “friendly to the environment” has become her favorite phrase, a subtle hint to the newfound appreciation she has of nature as a result of her studies.
Beyond individual growth, Bueno recognizes the role of language in fostering a supportive and inclusive environment within society.
“The visual of seeing a Hispanic woman speaking in their native tongue changes their perspective of what an American is or should be,” says Bueno. “I see myself as an ambassador and I don’t take that lightly.”