Thanksgiving is a truly American experience that might be celebrated slightly different all over the nation, varying between family traditions, communities, cities, or religious backgrounds. But what seems to hold the American people together on this solemn occasion is the central idea of this national holiday: To thank for all the blessings that people have in life, from seemingly trivial things like jobs, to one’s family, children, fortune in life, a home, and to one’s faith and creed. Thankfully, all of us international students found American homes to spend the day, as campus was deserted and our living complex resembled a ghost town. Some hours out in the woods at our host family’s property, a little shooting practice (an essential part of our American experience. I swear we only shot at clay pigeons), and then a peaceful day amidst the most hospitable people and with gorgeous Southern food made it unique.
A calm Thanksgiving Thursday is followed by Black Friday: For many people, this is the day to score cheap deals at nearby shopping malls – most of them opening at midnight, to allow people to go shopping right after Thanksgiving dinner and the football game. Attracted by 50%-off offers and discounts all around, their shopping fever lets businesses and stores be in the black again…
Memphis is not only the crucial city where Southern music legacy and entertainment history has been brought about. As you have probably heard of, it is also, among Birmingham and Montgomery, one of the determining places of the American Civil Rights Movement. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel in 1968 stands at the end of a political movement for equal rights and fair jurisdiction. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had already marked a watershed in that process as it officially prohibited and outlawed discrimination. To honor Dr. King’s dedication to the movement, in which he peacefully but yet with uncompromising commitment spoke out against segregation, the National Civil Rights Museum has been opened in 1991 at the very motel where Dr. King lost his life.
The museum illustrates the history of slavery and segregation and gives visitors an account of the leading figures who had dedicated themselves to the movement throughout history. With video footage, texts, billboards, historic timelines and loads of authentic artifacts, the museum pieces together the rocky path to equality. What remained our biggest question as a group of visitors was how a nation like the USA – a global superpower, often regarded the torchbearer of western values – could possibly advocate values like freedom and equality of the people on the world stage while deceiving them within its own borders at the very same time. It almost took a hundred years from the abolition of slavery in the 1860s to the Civil Rights Act, a landmark legislative step to carry through equality, designed to ensure freedom, equal chances, access to public resources and schools for every US citizen.
A second part of the museum focuses on the tragedy of Dr. Kings last day: Having bought and renovated the apartment building across the street, from where insidious sniper James Earl Ray gunned Dr. King down, the museum features a second breath-taking exhibition of the incident at that fateful day in April 1968, addressing the FBI investigation process, the conspiracy theories that embower the tragic incident, and the arrest of James Ray in London, 65 days after the crime.
This year, the museum celebrates its 20th anniversary. Further information can be found at http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org
If you spend a couple of days in Chicago you’ll probably compare it to Manhattan sooner or later. Many Americans who I talked to told me that they even like the Windy City better than New York, may it be for its tranquility, its trimness, cleanliness, or its down-home attitude, although it’s still the 3rd largest city in the US and the defining metropolitan area and a cultural hub in the Northern Mid-West. For what it’s worth, personally I think they’re quite right. Compared to the even more business-driven Manhattan, Chicago seemed to be a less touristy place and less dense, as it’s not all compressed and jammed together on the limited space of a peninsula. Fairly inexpensive rooms at the Holiday Inn downtown, the riverfront, Art Institute, Navy Pier, Millennium Park and a windy boat trip on Lake Michigan made it a great trip. Now fall break lies behind us and we’re more than half way through the semester…
You can use the link below to find a Public Service Announcement that me and my presentation group from our class “Theories of Persuasion” recorded at the recording studio in the basement of the Communication Building. It is the outcome of a more practice-oriented class assignment, in which we were asked to create a persuasive message directed to a specific audience, and to be presented in an appropriate media channel. The PSA radio spot speaks out against texting while driving, which seems to have become a major threat to road safety:
Enjoy, and feel invited to leave a comment:)
If you go to see St. Louis in October, you may do it for the Arch, for the City Museum or Forest Park. But given that you’re from Germany, there is no lame excuse not to check out the grand Soulard Oktoberfest right next to the huge brick Budweiser brewery – what a coincidence. So I’ll give you a short roundup of what you’ll go through when you decide to “party the German way.”
First and foremost, pay the five dollar entrance fee, get yourself a giant plastic mug and wrestle through to the Paulaner tent. Overall, you’ll find yourself on a fenced off area of the size of three football fields, with tons of tents and stages (with Austro-German bands such as the Dorfrockers) on it, all packed with people.
It seems as sometimes rites and traditions freeze over time, roam, and get adopted somewhere else on the globe. The St. Louis Oktoberfest perfectly exemplifies any cliché or preconception that may exist in the US about the German way to celebrate Oktoberfest: Gallons of German wheat beer, mediocre folk bands, brass music, pretzels, ham hocks and sauerkraut galore. You can’t do any better than ending a stressful week in an atmosphere of exuberance and feistiness. Dance floors packed with people in dirndls and lederhosen, imitating what they might imagine to be a square dance, linking arms with each other. You feel flattered that fragments of your cultural heritage have made over the ocean and have prevailed over time. But notwithstanding that tiny foothold of German cultural identity, you might also feel a little misrepresented. Is it that what Oktoberfest and Bavarian bucolic folk festivals are like? Hard to tell. Probably even the Oktoberfest in Munich has become a ludicrous portrayal of itself. Go see it with your own eyes and make up your mind, but do it before you get sucked in by that vicious hustle and bustle!
„Southerners are always eating,“ Professor J. R. Duke from Arkansas used to say. Minoring in American Studies, I attended his course “BBQ and the Blues: Food and Music of the American South” during the last summer term. In part, his statement may be true. There are fast food places galore on the U of M campus: There is a Burger King Whopper Bar, a Taco Bell Express, Topio’s Pizza, Chik-fil-A, Subway, Dunkin Donuts and a handful of other cafeterias and eateries around.
In comparison, food variety at the University in Mainz, Germany, seems stunningly frugal: A central canteen serves a variety of five mostly starchy dishes to more than 5000 students every day, plus a couple of smaller places to spend your lunch break. In the South, food and drinks are omnipresent. Shopping malls are full of eating places, highway roadsides are plastered with signs promising the closest can’t-miss deals: “Two for one”, “Buy three, get one free”, “real deal”, “free refill”, “Big thirst? Big gulp!”, “All you can eat”. Apart from residential areas, public space seems to be highly determined by banks, gas stations and fast food places. Don’t get me wrong. Money (makes the world go around), mobility (gets you from point A to B, and distances in the US are mostly non-walkable) and food are essential components of all of our lives. But at any rate, you really feel like there is a lot of it all, an abundance of goods to buy, and an egregious variety of ways how to spend your Benjamins.
As a foreign student, on the upside, you come to appreciate what the South stands for and what it represents pretty fast. Because there are certain things here that will remain priceless in a certain sense: The genuine Southern hospitality one experiences every day, the cozy, nostalgic slowness of things, and the amenities of the Southern cuisine.
University classes may choose different ways to teach students how to think critically, grasp information and how to develop academic skills.
In Germany, that basically works like this: You pick one out of three or four different classes that start at different times during the week and that may have slightly different thematic priorities and emphases. And then, you basically do your time and just sit there, once a week for ninety minutes. In seminars, you do one presentation per semester (not relevant for your grade), only to demonstrate that you are keeping track of the material as your class proceeds. And at the end of the semester, for every course, you submit one academic paper encompassing ten to twenty-five pages. And any lecture is completed by a single exam.
In the US, things tend to work a little different. I do not know which model I prefer, as both have their pros and cons. Here, studies are even more school-like, although even the introduction of the US-inspired Bachelor- and Master degree model in Europe designed to facilitate international degree status comparison has brought up fierce criticism, saying that it downgrades the old, humanist education. Anyhow, in the US you are asked to take three exams (all combined, they may amount to what German exams are like), but add to that loads of mandatory readings from textbooks and the class reader, class blogs, in-class as well as out-of-class-group assignments, pop quizzes, multiple presentations and other due dates. So you better get yourself a pocket calendar.
I’ve been pondering and weighing and not really come to an answer which way I personally do favor. Due to all the assignments, repetition and thus retention of the material is much, much better. Especially, when you’re working your way through theoretical frameworks you normally wouldn’t take a peek at until one week from the exam. You keep up with things because you have to. That’s probably a major advantage. But on the flipside, the academic level of class discussions (as mind-enriching and intelligible as they are!) is slightly lower than in Germany and sometimes lacks scientific substantiation (that’s not always a bad thing!). In Germany, you are pretty much conditioned to prove and scientifically underpin almost everything that you say and write. So please cut me some slack But what do you think? What kind of experiences have you made?