By Grace Webb
Special to The Free Press
---- — When customers at Henderson’s cozy Roadhaus diner ask Michelle Malecha what she could possibly do with a degree in German, she just smiles.
The recent MSU graduate has already studied in Germany twice, once in high school and once for a year during college, and this fall she’s returned a third time.
Malecha’s love of Germany stems from all parts of the country’s history and culture.
“(I love) the unique diversities that make Germany the country it is,” she said. “For example, historically, how young Germany is from a political viewpoint, and yet how old the country is from a cultural viewpoint. The great differences in dialect among every region of Germany never cease to amaze me.”
On her most recent trip to Germany, Malecha acted as a representative for New Ulm through the Hans Joohs Exchange Program. The program connects New Ulmwith its sister-city of Ulm, Germany. Every year, New Ulm sends a representative to Ulm for about three months for the opportunity to study and explore a career in Germany. The goal is create strong relationships between the sister cities and encourage the open sharing of ideas and cultures.
“The Hans Joohs work exchange inspires younger generations to continue learning German and strengthening their heritage and cultural bond between Ulm, Germany, and New Ulm, Minnesota,” Malecha said. “It allows young people a chance to travel, immerse themselves in the German culture while living and working with residents of Ulm, as well as gain practical experience speaking German in the work force.”
Malecha learned of the program through a professor at MSU and applied in January. The day after her interview, she learned she’d been chosen to go. In fact, she was the unanimous top choice. At first, she could hardly believe it.
“They had to convince me,” she said. “I was extremely ecstatic.”
While Malecha was overseas, she lived with a host family and worked at both teaching and translating German. Besides working, Malecha also published articles in New Ulm’s newspaper. Malecha is no stranger to teaching, having taught French in Kosovo last year, but this was the first time she truly experienced the business side of German society.
“Being in the German business world, that’s really fun and exciting and challenging,” she said.
Besides taking advantage of daily working life in Germany, Malecha said her other goal was to form as many new relationships as possible.
“To me, that is the main reason why the Hans Joohs Program exists: to have a young person forge new ties and strengthen the existing ones between our two countries and cities,” she said.
Malecha left for Germany in early August and stayed until late October. And she has some words of advice for college students considering whether they should study another language:
“Go for it! Language is the key that unlocks lingual and cultural barriers and allows you to move about the world with deeper insight and ability to communicate with others who otherwise would not have understood you either.”