Fear of contact with German folk music is alien to him. But that doesn’t mean that John Hutchinson, who plays the massive sousaphone in a college street band back home in the USA, doesn’t also like Beethoven and Bach. Quite apart from the fact that his favorite band is the Beatles. All of this and much more are things from the life of the 24-year-old from Birmingham/Alabama that the comprehensive school students in Großburgwedel are very interested in. Baseball and football aren’t John’s thing though.
Face to face
The American has been at the IGS on the Ramhorst since the beginning of the school year as a foreign language assistant. Gradually he offers himself to each of the almost 500 students for one-on-one conversations – face to face. English is of course spoken. Maybe not in the Oxford style, “but after all, we teach children and not subjects,” says headmaster Marco Gerhard Schinze-Gerber. Mister Hutchinson’s accent is definitely not pronounced.
The school director is happy that the first application from his IGS for an English-speaking assistant was approved by the Ministry of Education. Such a young native speaker, who also does not give grades, is of course perceived very differently by the students than a teacher. “The classes are clamoring for John,” reports Schinze-Gerber. In the relatively young teaching staff – average age just under 35 – the friendly southerner with a full beard is Benjamin.
First attempt fails due to Corona
John studied International Relations and German at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Because he was interested in Germany and its culture and also because large German companies like Mercedes are represented in his state, he had already taken German as a subject in high school. In order to qualify for his dream job as a university professor or at an international organization like the UN after his studies, it was mandatory to improve his knowledge of German on site.
First, John did this in 2019 as a guest student at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. The year-round stay as a foreign language assistant at the IGS Burgwedel, made possible by a Fulbright scholarship, should actually follow in 2020. But then Corona intervened. Without face-to-face teaching, this assignment would not have made any sense. He has been accompanying the English teachers in all 21 school classes since September 2021.
Small talk for self-confidence
Hutchinson retires with one student at a time. Eye to eye with him, the boys and girls then describe a picture, for example. Or a casual small talk gives the American the opportunity to give his counterpart tips for the correct pronunciation. It is very important for children’s self-confidence to experience that they are able to speak to a foreigner and be understood by them, says Hutchinson.
The German-American year is a classic win-win situation, also for John. The fact that he only speaks German with his fellow teachers and after school has improved his listening skills a lot, he says. He speaks his hosts’ language fluently. A really hard nut to crack is the pronunciation of the German word for squirrel: “Eisch-hör-chen”, he always forgets the N.
A castle in Bavaria, that must be
Julia Goldschmidt, head of the English department at the IGS, took care of his apartment and communicative landlady in Bothfeld for the American guest. Upon arrival, the fridge was well stocked. John comes to Großburgwedel by public transport. The 24-year-old attends lectures in political science and German at Leibniz University one working day a week. In his own words, he finds the state capital with its historic buildings and museums “relaxing and interesting”. Even in his hometown of Birmingham, he doesn’t really like nightlife. If he misses something, it’s more likely his sousaphone.
When his school year in Großburgwedel is over, the American wants to travel to Germany for a few more days with his girlfriend Sophie. Two compulsory points are already fixed. “She really wants to see a castle,” reveals John. In Bavaria, of course, preferably Neuschwanstein. He himself has prescribed “a real German football game”. Not necessarily with the club from the Bavarian state capital, Hannover 96 can also be there.
By Martin Lauber