Trading places — student teachers need passports for these assignments


As part of a new student-teacher exchange program with the University of Göttingen in Germany, University of Akron education senior Christopher Harmon is teaching ninth-grade math and social studies at the Georg-Christoph-Lichtenberg School in Gottingen, Germany, this fall.

In exchange, three German college students are here teaching Akron high school students. Elena von Hoff, Mathias Zimoch and Rainer Mucha are leading courses in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at Akron Public Schools' STEM High School and the Akron Early College High School, which is based at UA and offered in partnership with Akron Public Schools.

German exchange students Elena von Hoff, left, and Rainer Mucha, right, are pictured here with Susan Olson, associate dean of the College of Education. Olson helped establish the exchange program with the University of Göttingen.

Susan Olson, associate dean of UA's College of Education, traveled to Germany last fall on a Fulbright scholarship and established the partnership with Göttingen.

"STEM subjects are taught in English in Germany, so it was a good marriage for them to come over here to the STEM High School and the Akron Early College High School," Olson says.

Von Hoff, who teaches math at the Akron Early College High School, says that, in today's "international world," it is more important than ever for prospective teachers to study abroad.

"We have a lot of students from different countries in our classes in Germany, and experiencing the differences can help understanding those students a little better," she says.

Exchange of cultures and viewpoints

"We live in such a global society," adds Wendy Jewell, UA's director of student teaching and field experience, "and having that exposure to other cultures can only benefit you when you are approaching designing instruction for the classroom. You realize that one size does not fit all. You understand that background impacts learning."

Harmon, who spent six weeks teaching English in Russia last summer, says "it's important to realize that America is not the whole world and that other cultures and ways of life can be as valid, or perhaps more so, than our own."

Olson adds that international experience provides one with the "global perspective" necessary to participate in the marketplace.

"We live in a global market," she says. "We need to understand the global economy, how things work and that we don't work in silos. Not everything's in Akron, Ohio."

But von Hoff is quick to add that "international experiences are great not just for getting a better job after college, but also on a personal level.

"Spending time in another country, being on your own, working your way through a different culture, a different language, and having new people around you, makes you more independent and open-minded," she says.

Wider view of the world

Zimoch, who teaches math and computer science at the STEM High School and hopes to teach bilingual courses in Germany, says this "different and enriching experience" in the United States has helped him "develop as a person and get a wider view on people, subjects and life."

The German students, who are residing on UA's campus, are also learning what they like and dislike about American culture.

Zimoch says he appreciates "how interested people are in sports." He enjoys participating in campus life, watching sports with other students, and he hopes to attend an NBA game.

But the American food, he says, "is very rich in fat and sugar." He adds that he misses the bread in Germany, and that, "unfortunately, [in the U.S.] bakeries with good bread are rare."

Von Hoff also enjoys campus sports events, and says she "fell in love with American friendliness.

"Everybody is just friendly and talkative and happy to meet a German person. I love it," she says.

Mucha, who teaches an engineering class at the STEM High School, also praises American friendliness: "I like the people here. They are all very friendly and helpful.

"But I don't like that there is a lot of wasting, like throwing away food and paper dishes," he adds.

The German students, who are using this experience to complete a five-week internship requirement for licensure in their master's programs, will return to Germany at the end of November.

 Story by Nicholas Nussen

Media contact: Sarah Lane, 330-972-7429 or