University in the US versus Deutschland

What is university like in Germany versus the USA?

Well, I’ve tried to simplify it as best I can, but of course, it is a bit more nuanced on both sides.

Before I moved to Germany, I met a German exchange student at the graduate level. He didn’t understand why the administration was giving him funny looks for wanting to take ten courses.

In the US, for my part-time graduate degree, I took three courses at least once a week and each course was worth two credits. As an undergraduate university student, full-time could mean taking five or six courses with special permission, but full-time usually consists of four courses, usually worth three or four credit points each, thus equally 12-15 credit points. This meant at least three hours of in-class time for each course, plus weekly homework (readings, writing, reflection, etc.)

As graduate students, we were expected to work during the day and study at night. The workload was demanding and different every week!

The German student was coming from an undergraduate program where it was common for students to take ten or more classes because they’re all worth 2-3 ECTS points (European Credit Transfer System), and course time is between 12-15 weeks depending on if it is summer or winter semester, and homework is usually an exam or course paper due at the end of the semester. One ECTS credit point is worth 25-30 hours in a semester. This is made up of both weekly in-class learning time and independent learning time.

In German universities, students can usually earn 30 ECTS credits per semester and 60 credits in total for an academic year. 

The administration gave that German graduate student in my home university a pass on the course load, but after about 2 weeks he realized he was in over his head and had to drop a few courses.

In Germany, students generally have two semesters a year, winter and summer. The winter semester runs from October to March while the summer semester is held from April through September. However, these periods have two distinct periods, course meeting time and then research and writing time. Each of these periods lasts about 15 weeks or three months.

During course meeting time students can take up to 10 courses at a time depending on what they are studying. In many courses (but not all), students are only expected to take notes in lectures and then expected to do their own readings or research and writing only after the course meeting time has finished.

Both systems are demanding but in very different ways. The US system required attendance and participation (weekly homework and class discussions), while the German system required attendance and sometimes participation and homework, with more for the students to do at the end of the semester.

Do you have experience with either of these systems? Tell me about it in the comments.

If you could go back in time, would you?

A question to ponder…

One of the aspects I love about being a language teacher is the flexibility I have in my job.

With some of my clients, the content and delivery is very structured. With others, depending on their available time and interest we watch television programs, films, read books, or current news independently and these discuss when we meet up.

As it is the end of the year, my client today had been reflecting a lot on 2022, as we do. They posited this question, among others.

I loved the conversation it fostered.

My client’s reply was that they would be interested to go back in time to modify an event to see what effect on the present it might have.

As an adult I haven’t said this in a long time…“If I could go back in time…“ because I’ve honestly attempted to live my life appreciating where I’m at and how I got here.

Does that mean that sometimes I put my foot in my mouth or step in it (meaning to say things I wish I hadn’t or to act in ways that later I wish I hadn’t) – Oh buddy, yes.

But that also means that to the best of my ability I’m honest about those errs (mistakes) and attempt to improve my interactions, actions, and reactions in the future.

We can’t change the past but how we approach the present can shape the future. That’s what I like to focus on.

What would you do? If you could go back in time, would you? What would you do? How would you use that time?

How do you approach this time of year – are you reflective, do you make resolutions,…? Tell me in the comments


Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1866 on the anniversary of the date that slavery in Texas ended a year earlier in 1865.

It was formally made a paid state holiday in 1980, specifically in Texas. Although it has been observed and celebrated across the US (and some other countries apparently too) since 1866, it wasn’t a formal federal holiday until June 17, 2021.

Why does Juneteenth exist?

June 19, 1865, the day Black people enslaved in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom from Union soldiers. The day exists to commemorate the end of slavery in the USA.

How is the day celebrated?

How can you learn more?


  • 13th (Documentary)
  • I Am Not Your Nigra
  • Miss Juneteenth
  • Mudbound
  • Black-ish (TV series)
  • 12 Years a Slave


  • On Juneteenth by Janet Gordon-Reed
  • Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Scenes of Subjection, by Saidiya Hartman
  • The Long Emancipation: Moving Toward Black Freedom, by Rinaldo Walcott
  • Juneteenth, by Ralph Ellison

Support Black artists, business owners & entrepreneurs, creators, & designers.

Other Resources

Acheampong, Gemma & Sophie Yarin. “Celebrate Juneteenth with These 15 Films, Podcasts, TV Shows, Albums, and Books” Boston University. Trustees of Boston University. 15.06.2022.

Gates, Henry Louis. “What is Juneteenth?” WNET (2013).

McDonald, Jordan Takisha. “Put Down the Juneteenth Ice Cream and Pick Up These 15 Books A reading list for America’s latest greeting-card category.” Vulture. Vox Media, LLC. 18.06.22.

Taylor, Derrick Bryson. “Juneteenth: The History of a New Holiday.” The New York Times. The Bew York Times, LLC. 08.06.22.

Image text adapted from Wikipedia & Britannica.

What is culture?

In intercultural communication (IC) training, culture is one of the first things discussed. Doing so helps participants set into the mindset of thinking about culture, something that we don’t generally do on any given day, especially not without being prompted to.

I didn’t necessarily think I had a ‘real’ culture coming from America many years ago because I didn’t understand American culture beyond the Founding Fathers, its major cultural epochs, politics, & popular culture which is increasingly rebooted films & reality TV.

I was deep in the ‘fishbowl’ then, not realizing I was surrounded by all the cultural ‘water’ that I was immersed in.

I am in a very different place now, both figuratively & literally.

Today, I am immersed in culture all of the time because I have studied it casually since 2008. In 2021 specifically, I studied it professionally to earn my intercultural communication training certification. I have realized that culture impacts just about everything we do.

You have likely heard of the ‘chicken and the egg’ dilemma, as in which came first? Well, within each one of us is a similar question related to culture. What about us is related to culture and what about us is just our personality?

So, whether you know a thing about culture or not, here is some basic information to help you check in with yourself in the hope that maybe you can be one step closer to answering your chicken and egg dilemma question…

How would you define culture?

Here are a few of the ‘standard’ models used to discuss what culture is with a brief explanation of each model. Most IC trainers have a favorite model or two that they prefer or will use often, but this is generally a way to only begin the discussion.

Choose an example and attempt to identify how your culture is the tree, the onion, or whichever you choose. What are the similarities between the object you have chosen and ‘culture’? How might this understanding help you better work across cultures?

The iceberg is perhaps the most common visual representation of culture. When we think of culture we only think about what we can observe with our senses. These are often clearly identifiable things like gender, religion, family, foods, music, clothing, nationality, famous buildings, literature, icons, or art and architecture. Additionally, because of this, we tend to only think of others in simple terms, one-dimensionally. This is whilst at the same time thinking of ourselves and those we know like us as multidimensional beings.

Deeper under the surface of the iceberg are the aspects of culture that we cannot identify with our senses, these aspects are also usually more difficult to adapt or shift. On the other hand, the items noted previously that are above the surface are much easier to adapt to. Much more challenging is changing how we think about certain things, especially when our worldview is strikingly different than our own.

The tree is perhaps my favorite example of culture. Its roots represent the origin and a sense of belonging to various groups. The trunk is the values important to your personal cultural context. Finally, the leaves are the visible culture, including communication and conflict styles.

The sand dune is similar to the tree in how is it used to examine culture, however, it is a bit more abstract for many. Here the topmost layer is related to individuals and smaller communities that can be negotiated. The middle layer or sediment is the facts of the culture. The deeper in the dune we dig, the more compacted and set the culture becomes.

It may be helpful to see these three levels like this: The top level is the ‘can’ level, the middle is the ‘should’ level, and the bottom is ‘have to’. In the specific cultural groups, what ‘can’ members do or possibly get away with, within context, and still remain in the group. What guidelines, behaviors, or traditions ‘should’ members follow to remain and be accepted in the group? Finally, what norms, laws, or prohibitions do members ‘have to’ follow their membership?

The problem here might be that we may have never given much thought to these points so articulating them, even to ourselves, might be a challenge.

An onion is perhaps second to the iceberg in its potential ease in understanding its relationship to culture, even if it isn’t necessarily liked as food (especially raw). People can usually identify with the layered sense of self to those layers of an onion. Often though problems occur when we forget to give this understanding to others, easily believing that others are not as multifaceted as we are. This is our human error, especially when we are under stress.

The last example, but by no means the be-all-end-all of the examples, is eyewear or eyeglasses. The goal of working through these ideas is to understand that there are many interpretations when looking at the same thing and others’ interpretations are not wrong, just different.

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”

Marcus Garvey

Over to you

Are there any other visuals that come to mind? Which ones and why?

Which is your preferred metaphor for culture? Did you have one before coming across this post? Why or why not?

Please let me know in the comments.


Today, my heart is heavy.

When I was a child, I always thought life would be easier and better when I was older. Then, a little older I thought life would be better living abroad.

Neither of these is really true. They are stories I told myself to get through whatever I was going through at the moment. I’ve learned life is richer because of how varied and diverse it is – not because I am or am not in a specific place or time.

Life is good for me, my family, and a lot of other people right now. It could always be better, which is what I think most people strive for, but it could also be a lot worse.

I am thankful daily for what I have, am able to do, and the way I am able to live and work.

I cannot even think about any of this being taken away from me. I literally cannot fathom it. Yet, that is what so many people in Ukraine woke up to just a few days ago.

People have died, lost their homes, their livelihoods. People are having to take up civilian arms, making Molotov cocktails to have at the ready when Russian troops fully enter Kyiv and the ground war begins. Others are attempting to find shelter in the subway or in basements if they cannot flee.

For a power-hungry egoist seemingly seeking previous glory from a bygone era? Maybe Putin thinks life would be better, richer, more right by taking Ukraine – but this is not reality.

What is to stop this from happening again elsewhere. As an Ami living in Europe, I don’t have the luxury of saying the conflict is ‘over there’. It feels so close, physically, emotionally, mentally.

We think borders define us, they don’t – not wholly. We think our politics or politicians define us, they don’t. There is proof of this in the hundreds of Russians protesting their government. If you or I are truly multifaceted, so are ‘they’…as is every person on this planet.

These Ukrainians are my friends, neighbors, fellows in this life who were just going to work, having meals with their families and friends, hugging their children. Who’s to say they are not us. They are.

They deserve better than this.

Is this the oldest company in Germany?

I first came across this idea when I was looking for things to do in Rheinland-Pfalz that my family has not yet done. Then, suddenly I was seeing references to this place a lot. Now I know the internet plays a part in this – it ‘magically’ multiplies what you search for, showing you more of it. This is likely a factor but doesn’t explain my husband’s sudden desire to watch travel shows about the Mosel River or Rheinland-Pfalz.

In Germany, (arguably) the oldest company still in operation is a winery first formed in 862 as part of a wine-producing Abby in the town of Kröv, near Traben-Trabach and Bernkastel Kues. Here, I am speaking of the Staffelter Hof in a little wine village along the Mosel River between Bernkastel-Kues and Traben-Trabach.

via (06.02.2020)

I say arguably because other resources on the internet claim others are the oldest. However, outside of Wikipedia, the best resources I could find on the internet claimed the ‘oldest business in Germany’ was a brewery, Weihenstephan Monastery Brewery (Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, Freising) that began in 1030. Of course, it would be a brewery. The next oldest company according to the same article said the next business, also a brewery, began in 1040.

Another website claims the oldest winery in Germany is Niersteiner Glöck. According to “A historic charter proves that the vineyard “Niersteiner Glöck” is Germany’s oldest named vineyard site. It was gifted in 742 by the Diocese of Würzburg to the Carolingian ruler Majordomo Karlmann, uncle of Charlemagne.” (source) The next notable oldest winery in Germany is Schloss Johannisberg between Bingen and Mainz. This winery was apparently the first to be solely planted with Riesling grapes – meaning the first in the world, then became the first vineyard to produce the ‘Spätlese’ a German term for late harvest wine that is produced from fully ripe grapes—in 1775. However, the vineyard was first apparently planted in 817. “The vineyards around the palace were first mentioned in 817 when Emperor Ludwig the Pious (also known as Louis the Pious) acquired them from Fulda Abbey.” (source)

What exactly makes Staffelterhof different from these other wineries?

First records of Staffelterhof can be found in Liege Belgium’s city archives since, at the time, the area was controlled by the Carolingian Dynasty (relating to Charlemagne).

This was the case until 1804 when the Napoleonic Code replaced feudal law with clearly written laws across Europe.

In 1805 the winery was bought by the Peter Schneiders family who has subsequently passed it down through the family over seven generations to its current winemaker, Jan Klein, who took over from his father, Gerd Klein.

In the 1960s the family added a guest house to the property, which has been run by Jan Klein’s mother ‘Gundi’.

Staffelterhof Guest House, 2022

Not shown is the (peach) schnapps we also bought, which is produced and distilled on the property (along with other flavors too) since 1890.

Additionally not visible is the wonderfully casual nature of the exchange that took place. We rolled up, not knowing where to park – so parked near the entrance. Knocked on their door, which I think was also the entrance to their house. Asked if we could buy some wine and were treated to a small wine tasting. I would have gladly had more, but I was driving.


Over to you

What is the oldest company in your country?

Have you ever visited Germany’s Mosel or Rhein wine region? What are your favorite wineries, experiences, or memories from your visit?

Have you tried any of the wines from the wineries mentioned here? What did you think of them?

Other Resources:

  • “German Firms with the Longest Corporate History”. (12.07.2019) Catherine Delikhan (hg) –
  • “List of the Oldest Still Operating German Companies”. (14.08.2007) Thomas Jannot –
  • “Oldest Wineries in the World.” (10.04.21) Manas Sen Gupta –
  • Staffelterhof homepage
  • Staffelterhof – Wikipedia (English) (German)
  • “The Oldest Companies in the World”. (06.02.2020) – (with beautiful infographics)
  • “The World’s Oldest Companies Still Operating Today”. (25.04.2017) Amber Pariona –

Groundhog Day

I know I am publishing this well past February 2nd, but still think it is culturally relevant, especially in 2022…

During the pandemic, at least in the English-speaking western world “Groundhog Day” the popular 1993 film became a shorthand joke for how we’re all supposed to get out of this Corona wave loop.

Do you know what this day means in North American culture?!

Well, look at the following watch a short video or the images that follow to learn more about this day in North America.

Video created by ME.

Here is the 1993 trailer for the American cult classic film.

Do you know how the film ended? Do you know how Bill Murray’s character stopped having to live like every day was ‘Groundhog Day’?

I have read some pretty great analyses of what this film really means or stands for. My favorites are in this Mentalfloss article by Jennifer M Wood from 2019. As I love exploring self-help, the idea that the film is a ‘self-help bible’ is somewhat interesting. Is there more to this 90s film than pure entertainment?

When it was released, the point of the film was that its main character was a self-involved jerk, which serves no one, not even the person who is ultimately self-involved. So, Murray’s character becomes stuck on February 2 reliving the day ad nauseam until he learns there is more to life than he himself and his interests or whims. He has to evolve or continue being stuck.

Do you see how this became an allegory for the Corona pandemic?

Also, if you like this type of film American Actor Andy Samberg starred in a modern retelling of this situation, albeit sans February 2nd, in 2020s “Palm Springs”.

Over to you

Have you seen either one of these films? What do you think is the message behind the original film? Is there a greater meaning beyond that which we can see from a face-value viewing of Groundhog Day or Palm Springs? Do you think the two films’ modern connection to the Corona Pandemic is appropriate or warranted, why or why not?

Gaudi or Gaudy

Gaudy is an adjective that means ‘extravagantly bright or showy, so as to be tasteless’.

Synonyms include ‘garish’, ‘elaborate’, ‘lurid’, ‘glaring’, harsh’, ‘ornate’, and ‘flashy’. 

Photo by Gvantsa Gongadze on

Gaudi, as in the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, who is credited with such world-renowned works as Park Güell, Casa Battló (one of my favorite), and La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (the most visited monument in Spain) who lived from 1852 to 1926, specializing in the Modernisme or Catalan-specific Arte Nouveau style incorporating natural with architectural elements and religious symbolism (at times). Seven of his works in Spain have been deemed World Heritage sites by UNESCO. 

Photo by Ovidio Rey on

Yes, clearly I am a fan of the latter.

My question to you is, is the latter the origin of the former and, what does this have to do with culture? 

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

While the two are similar, Gaudi’s work is definitely ornate, leaning toward ‘ornate’ or ‘intricate’ if you are not a fan.

The word actually comes from the 16th century, specifically, the 1580’s when it meant ‘joyfully festive’, which itself is likely a re-using of an early 14th-century noun meaning ‘large, ornate bead in a rosary’. Alternatively, this adjective could come from Middle English or Old French ‘gaudegrene’ from the early 14th century, which was the name of a yellowish-green pigment, transforming from ‘well-dyed’ to ‘bright ornamentation’. 

The long and the short of it is that the word is older than the man. 

Popular culture is awash in the idea that the word is named after the man. After visiting the Sagrada Familia for the first time I bought a biography of Gaudi that purported this idea as well. 

Photo by Charl Durand on

In his time, Modernisme or Arte Nouveau was, in part, a return to the past in response to the industrial revolution and thus stiff forms perpetrating art and design at the time. Politically and ideologically, it was seen as a way for the bourgeoisie (the middle, or capitalist class with its perceived materialistic or conventional values.) to identify with more of their Catalan cultural roots.

It could be that people have been divided by Gaudi’s work from the beginning.
As the BBC’S John Glancy put it in 2014, “George Orwell said it was “one of the most hideous buildings in the world” and rather hoped it would be destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Salvador Dalí spoke of its “terrifying and edible beauty”, saying it should be kept under a glass dome. Walter Gropius, master of right-angled architecture and founder of the Bauhaus, praised its technical perfection. Louis Sullivan, the great American architect, and “father of skyscrapers”, described it as a “spirit symbolized in stone.”

Photo by Enrico Perini on

Over to You

What do you think, tell me in the comments: 
Were you aware of the origin of the word Gaudy?
Did you also think the origin of the word Gaudy and the man Gaudi were related?
Have you ever been to see or walk among any of Gaudi’s works in Spain? If so, where did you go and what did you think? 

High Culture versus Low Culture

Culture is defined in the dictionary as:
1) the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time,
2) a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc., and
3) a way of thinking, behaving or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business). 

Photo by Beatriz Jara on

High culture is aspects of culture that are deemed ‘superior’ and usually associated with (and consumed by) the elite in society: the well-educated or wealthy. It usually requires special education or training to develop and understand and is accepted by authoritative institutions as having ‘great value, importance, or significance. (Read: of greater value)

Whereas, low culture is seen as the opposite, meaning generally mass appeal popular culture. This mass appeal can be seen as rather basic, innocent, and escapist. Low culture often employs tropes and stereotypes that can be seen as offensive, emotional, and unbalanced (read: of less value).

Both terms ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture are seen as derogatory, or disrespectful toward the other. Popular culture, which changes more rapidly and, within this context is seen as a ‘lesser’ aspect of culture as it relates to socioeconomic status. 

Photo by Fam Vontini on

Examples of high culture include (but are not limited to) classical music, ballet, the fine arts, poetry, and some literature. Whereas examples of low culture include kitsch, slapstick, camp, escapist fiction, popular music, comic books, tattoo art, and exploitation films. A modern example of low culture could be reality tv programs and, opposite to this, examples of modern high culture include high-end fashion (think the Berkin bag or Louis Vuitton), food, or fads. 

Photo by Faizi Ali on

High culture is consumed by “well-rounded”, “well-read”, and “educated” folks whereas low culture is consumed by those “that don’t know any better.” Some things can transition from high to low culture when it becomes consumable by the masses. Low culture has also often been seen as “primitive” or “less developed”. 

You Can’t Be Serious?!

If you have read this far, you hopefully can understand just how outdated these terms are in the 21st century, while understanding humans today as global, intercultural, and intermixed beings. One person’s high culture is another’s low culture and vice versa. This is especially true as many aspects of modern popular culture have become ‘canon’ as it were – having great value, importance, or significance since they were first produced.

Finally, if your ‘culture’ relies on degrading another person based on how they identify – or even how you identify them, maybe it is time to examine how ‘civilized’ these aspects of your culture really are.  

Part of the problem here is that no matter how outdated these ideas are, they still remain. Luckily not to the extent of influence they had, say in the twentieth century. But, they can be found around the not-so-dark hushed edges.

Over to You

How has your understanding of culture changed over time? What is something that to your understanding began as ‘popular’ culture but has shown to have greater importance over time? 

What is Culture? 

Culture can be defined in a number of ways depending on where you look.

“Culture is the patterns of learned and shared behavior and beliefs of a particular social, ethnic, or age group. It can also be described as the complex whole of collective human beliefs with a structured stage of civilization that can be specific to a nation or time period. Humans in turn use culture to adapt and transform the world they live in. (Lumen)”

In the dictionary, Culture is, 1) the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time, 2) a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc., and 3) a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business). (Merriam-Webster)

Culture is multifaceted. It is shaped by many factors, including our own family, friends, larger communities & groups, as well as our local, regional, or national identities. Furthermore, it is our gender, educational experience, the media we consume or are exposed to, larger experiences, traumas, travels, and more. It is a set of values and behaviors that are learned and shared by a community.

Culture is complex because we are complex.

It is not innate but taught. Inherently shared and passes on via generations of teachers, parents, and leaders.

Photo by Jesu00fas Miru00f3n Garcu00eda on

It is the crux of intersectionality. Our identities are not simple, neither are our lives in general. Many of these aspects overlap – this is intersectionality.

How do we learn things? Through common influences and shared experiences. This is the main reason Germany has made homeschooling forbidden because cultural socialization is vital to a shared human success. Otherwise, we might all still be disparate tribes warring often with others.

Where to focus?

Is there a difference between ‘Culture’ and ‘culture’? Yeah, sure. However, that may be a bit much for this post. 

There is even ‘high-culture and ‘low-culture’, which again is a conversation for another post. 

Here, I would like to mainly remind folks just how complex culture is compared to what we usually think it is. That is, what we can see, hear, taste, and smell versus that which flows under the surface but is really the engine driving each and every one of our interactions. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

The Ultimate Personality Test?

My partner likes taking personality tests, or at least he did in the past. Me, I can see their use in some settings but, partly because there is such a plethora of them available – I feel sometimes like it is all a bit far-fetched for me personally. That is not to say that they don’t work necessarily – just that they never worked for ME.

It wasn’t until I began traveling, living, and working internationally and then examining personally why I just don’t seem to understand some people (and vice versa, other people just not understanding me) did I begin to uncover and understand intercultural communication as the ultimate ‘personality test’.

All of this is to say, in our increasingly globalized world, intercultural communication can offer you insight into behavior patterns across the board that will improve your ability to understand and communicate effectively with other people.

Be Kind

Additionally, you never know what pressures are affecting a person’s day; in addition to external factors, there could be internal cultural factors at play. So, be kind to those you encounter. 

Over to you

Let me know in the comments:
How do you define culture?
What aspects (listed in the image, or not) make up the most important aspects of culture for you?