World language teachers say being bicultural broadens perspectives

acumen

Besides teaching world languages at this school, German teacher Angelika Becker and Spanish teacher Norma Schehl have something else in common: They both grew up speaking a language other than English in small towns not within the United States.

GERMAN HERITAGE: German teacher Angelika Becker, who grew up in West Germany during the Cold War, shows off her German culture through all the items she owns. According to a 2011 American Community Survey by the U.S. Cenus Bureau, the percentage of Americans 5 years and older who speak a language other than English at home has increased by 140 percent since 1980. CRYSTAL CHEN / PHOTOS
GERMAN HERITAGE: German teacher Angelika Becker, who grew up in West Germany during the Cold War, shows off her German culture through all the items she owns. According to a 2011 American Community Survey by the U.S. Cenus Bureau, the percentage of Americans 5 years and older who speak a language other than English at home has increased by 140 percent since 1980. CRYSTAL CHEN / PHOTOS

“I think that growing up in one country and then living in another country is one of the most life-changing experiences,” Becker said.

As a result, both Schehl and Becker may be better off. According to a 2007 study by the University of California, being bicultural has many benefits, including better psychological adaptation and intercultural sensitivity, that are vital for success in international business.

Schehl said she lived for 23 years in a town called Nogales, AZ right on the border of the United States and Mexico.

“There was literally a fence that separated us. It was almost like having two different lives,” Schehl said. “Going to school, before bilingual education, was all in English, but my home life was in Spanish.”

People in her community, according to Schehl, were fluent in both English and Spanish. She described the town as unido, which means “united” in Spanish.

“Everyone, even though we were separated by a border, was still very close. It was a very close-knit community. There was no distinction between Hispanic and American,” she said.

Becker said her life in West Germany during the Cold War was simultaneously different from and similar to life in the United States.

“The biggest difference between the two countries, even today, is that Germans are not outwardly patriotic,” Becker said. “In Germany, you don’t see flags flying. You don’t see people stand up and pledge allegiance to the flag.”

However, according to Becker, teenagers’ activities in Germany were much the same as they are in the United States today.

“I’d hang out with friends,” she said. “We’d go on long walks. Or we would sit in the park at the main road, watch the cars go by and make up stories about the people in the cars.”

Becker said she learned life lessons growing up in Germany that she wouldn’t have known otherwise.w.bilingualgraphic

“Good work ethic really helps you succeed. That was Germany after World War II, in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and people didn’t have much,” Becker said. “They worked hard to better themselves, and it was successful. That’s what I took away from Germany in that era.”

Becker and Schehl said they agreed that their bicultural roots give them wider perspectives and a different view of the world.

“Having lived in two different cultures,” Becker said. “You see your own culture from a different perspective. You’re more tolerant; you accept people the way they are, not the way sometimes they are viewed by just one culture. It really broadens your acceptance, and you learn a lot  about yourself.”

0