Assoc. Sports Editor
Jonas Liphardt seems just like an ordinary college student; he likes live music, swimming in the lake and having a cookout with his friends. But, once you start tearing away his layers and get to know the real 23-year-old, he’s anything but ordinary.
Once you hear him speak, you notice his thick-sounding “C’s,” his “F”-like “V’s” and a slight trill on his “R’s”, and, all of a sudden, he becomes… well, let him tell you.
“I think my accent makes me interesting,” he said.
Meet Liphardt, an English and history major and education minor fresh out of Germany – 37 days, to be exact. Born in the small town of Hessisch Lichtenau, located in eastern Hesse, Germany, the newcomer hopped over the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Lancaster, Pa on August 21st to study at Millersville University for a year.
Liphardt ventured here “to improve my English … and experience teaching at an American University,” he said.
After all, the vocation Liphardt is striving towards in Germany is teaching, and what better place to go than Pennsylvania’s first normal school, where teaching was originally first priority? According to Liphardt, though, there was a hindrance right out of the gate.
“At first, it was hard for me to cope with the amount of reading, lecture and assignments,” he said. He went on to elaborate by using one of his foreign language classes in Germany as an example.
Juxtaposed with the classes he’s taking at Millersville, this certain course required much less; one presentation and one test were his only grades. Participation, he said, was paramount, for every student would write their signature on a sign-in sheet to prove that they attended that day.
Coming from the not-far-from-home Philipps University of Marburg, one of Germany’s most ancient institutions which consists of roughly 25,000 students, Liphardt was used to the crowd, the noise and the commotion of the college environment, but he was perplexed by the percentage of students that were able to afford vehicles.
“It’s interesting that so many students have a car,” he said. “I have a car too, but it’s at home with my parents. It’s too expensive because of gas.”
In America, college students surely aren’t known for their affluence or luxurious living condition, but, in Germany, it is much worse.
“Many of them are very poor,” Liphardt said about his fellow German students. “Scholarships are very hard to get,” he continued, and government funding for expenses such as housing, food, school materials, etc. is rather stingy.
For instance, Manfred, Liphardt’s father, owns a small craftsman business. And, although his financial situation fluctuates from good weeks to bad weeks, “I got no aid,” he said. Thus, Liphardt and his family were left to fend for themselves, so cutting back became a must. Suddenly, the 270 euros provided by his university for public transportation became vital.
Plus, “Germans like cycling,” Liphardt said, so he decided to join the less-detrimental-to-the-wallet club.
Before Liphardt chose to pursue teaching, drive a car or purchase a train ticket, he had to complete his education in Germany. As in the U.S., there is a form of elementary, middle and high school. But, where Liphardt grew up at least, the meandering path through each level differed from student to student.
Liphardt’s process of mandatory schooling was much more nuanced than the average American’s. First, there is elementary school, from grades one through four, where students just learn the basics.
Then, it becomes a mess, full of detours and one-way streets.
Either advanced school or Gymnasium comes next. Gifted students are able to take the latter route, Gymnasium, a school that prepares pupils for a university, all the way until they graduate after 12th grade. If not, middle school follows after 6th grade – this is the way Liphardt climbed up the system, although planning to teach in the Gymnasium level after college.
Three levels are incorporated within that: Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium. You could roughly compare them to career prep, college prep and advanced placement in the States. If one excels in Hauptschule, then they may advance to Realschule; if Realschule is a breeze for a student, then he or she could proceed to Gymnasium.
During these years, students would be taught subjects like English, history, math, German, biology, chemistry, physics and a secondary foreign language of their choice such as French or Latin. Also, a sensitive topic would be weaned into classrooms: the Holocaust.
In 6th grade, German students would be introduced to that gruesome time period with a book that wasn’t too disparate from The Diary of Anne Frank. It was about an 11-year-old Jewish girl who had to escape the persecution, Liphardt explained.
“It’s a really important subject in school,” he said; however, “It was hard for me, as a young kid, to imagine a thing like this … the fact that there was an organized genocide going on.”
Further down the road, the history of World War II, consisting of the facts, politics and goals of Adolf Hitler’s regime, would percolate into the day’s learning.
After the winding yellow brick road of middle school, high school is on deck for the final 3 years. Here, the curriculum would be upgraded to religion and ethics courses, along with the continuation of the previous subjects. Liphardt said that this is where they really delved into the Holocaust, learning about specific documents and conferences that were involved.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I felt the need for explanation,” thinking aloud to himself, “What was going through the minds of people to do stuff like this?”
For the students who have been at Gymnasium for the last seven years, they may graduate after 12th grade. If not, Oberstufe is the last stop before stepping into the real German world.
Thus, Liphardt ended up at Marburg, and now, Millersville.
One of the cultural differences he ran into was the lack of music festivals such as Germany’s Wacken Open Air – which is the one of the largest heavy metal concerts in the world, easily accumulating 70,000 spectators annually – but he admitted that our national pride definitely made up for it.
Instead of setting off elaborate fireworks, Germans would rather hike or watch a special on television, commemorating the unification of East and West Germany.
Where you would find the most national pride in Germany, though, isn’t on specific holidays, nor is it in the woods or on the tube – after all, Liphardt recalled that Germany hasn’t had any war victories. Instead, it’s at soccer arenas.
“I don’t know where this phenomenon comes from,” he said, but “Many people in Germany like to celebrate their heritage at soccer games.”
He described that “masses” of people gravitate towards the German national team and rely on them for a reason to display their national pride. Flags are waved, faces – entire bodies at times – are painted and vocal chords are shredded in honor of their white-and-black-wearing heroes.
In a way, “Soccer championships substitute [national] holidays,” said Liphardt.
The 23-year-old, though, would rather listen to fist-pumping techno beats than migraine-inducing vuvuzelas.
“I’m a big fan of small festivals,” Liphardt said. There, he and his friends would galvanize a night of grilling, swimming and drinking while listening to the ever-popular electronic music genre, House.
“House music is very popular among Germans,” Liphardt said, also noting pop, rock, blues and reggae as other notable genres reverberating off the walls of German pubs.
Since the drinking age in Germany is lower than in the U.S. – 16 years old for wine and beer, 18 for hard liquor – they could even stay in their dorms and toss back some German beer while avoiding the “metal heads,” as he called them, who would sometimes dampen the experience of the festivals.
In fact, the thing that Liphardt would say he misses most about his home country isn’t the eco-friendly bicyclist, the pulsating soccer arena or the glass-shattering House music. What would it be, then, you ask?
“Good beer,” he said.