American, German high school students share mutual interest
May 11, 2009
- Big Read is a National Endowment of the Arts program
- Bamberg is the only U.S. Army community library in Europe to hold The Big Read
- German and American students were encouraged to enter mixed groups to discuss 18 topics
BAMBERG, Germany -- Students filled the tables of Bamberg's High School library for The Big Read program April 29, the literary discussion creating an atmosphere of intellectual and cultural excitement for the second consecutive year.
The Big Read is a National Endowment of the Arts program meant to encourage and invigorate the reading of American literature. American and international citizens are encouraged to participate. This year the NEA advertised a list of suggested reads on their Web site including "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Age of Innocence" and "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan.
Bamberg is the only Army community library in Europe to hold The Big Read this year said U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg library director Karen Lazzeri.
"I felt we needed to do this because library literacy is a crucial part of this community." Lazzeri said. "Last year's Big Read was very successful."
Participants in the program included teachers and students from Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffman High School and Bamberg High School, as well as staff from both the community and high school libraries.
Because this year's Big Read was just before Asian Pacific Heritage Month, Lazzeri chose to have students discuss the "Joy Luck Club."
High-school teacher Terra McAllister listed the Tan book as an optional novel in her English and honors English sophomore classes about a month and a half before the Big Read. Seven of her students were present April 29.
E.T.A. Hoffman High School students were invited to participate alongside Bamberg High School students.
Teachers Stephan Zweier and Stephanie Keen created a study schedule for advanced-level English language students to read and discuss Tan's writing.
As head of the English Department at E.T.A. Hoffman, Zweier often teaches through novels. "The Joy Luck Club," "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens and Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" were included in his syllabus this year.
E.T.A. Hoffman High School student Daniel Schuster enjoyed the book overall.
"It was entertaining," Schuster said. "We don't know much about this culture. We mainly know stereotypes."
E.T.A. Hoffman student Nina Madel found the themes of Vietnamese tradition and food most interesting.
The program orientation started at the community library and was followed by an "icebreaker" of Chinese food at the high school.
In the afternoon, speaker Tin Tin Featherston addressed those present. She discussed her Vietnamese heritage, focused on the role of women in the culture and her family's displacement to America following the fall of Saigon in 1975.
"My parents didn't want to talk about their history," Featherston said. "It was too painful. Some people did not want the Vietnamese in their communities. Outside Fort Chaffee there were some protesters saying 'go home Vietnamese,' they didn't realize we had no home to go to."
She also shared a slide show of personal family photos with backdrops including several American relocation sites for Vietnamese refugees.
Following her speech, Featherston taught the students the numbers one through four in Vietnamese and opened the floor for questions.
German and American students were encouraged to enter mixed groups and talk about the 18 questions handed out. The book primarily concerned women characters, specifically mothers and daughters.
Bamberg High School honor student Madeleine Wojack related best to the mother-daughter relationships depicted. Her Chinese-American heritage made the conflicts very familiar.
"It was like, that's mom and grandma," Wojack said.
Visiting German students agreed that the book was new and appealing to them because the Vietnamese culture is not one they read about as often as American and European cultures.
The program was interactive, allowing those present to share cross-cultural views and achieve the NEA's goal of bringing literature to life.