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Aware in another culture

A training workshop for American students going on

exchange to Freiburg, Germany

Alyssa Geiger

Professor Grothe
WKS 570- Cross Cultural Training
Monterey Institute of International Studies
Table of Contents



Pre-departure Schedule……………………………………………………………..5

Session 1……………………………………………………………………………5

Values Worksheet…………………………………………………………..7

Sample Venn Diagram……………………………………….....……...…..8

Talk 1: Value Orientation ………………………………………………….8

Cartoon Illustration: non-verbal communication………………………….11

Talk 2: Social situations………………………………………………...…12

Role Play………………………………………………………………..…14

Session 2…………………………………………………………...….....………..17

Talk 3: Personal Environment…………………………………………..…18

Talk 4: Academia………………………………………………………….19

Critical Incident #1………………………………………………………..19

Post Arrival Workshop Schedule……………………………………………........21

Session 3…………………………………………………………………………..21



Although there is a close affinity between American and German cultural norms

and values, there are also important cultural differences to be aware of. By understanding

how Germans understand the world, one is better able to communicate with them. The

goal of the workshop, “Aware in Another Culture”, is to give American students skills

and knowledge that will enable them to more easily acclimate to German culture, society

and life in Germany through intercultural training.

In this workshop, the intercultural training will focus on the awareness of cultural

differences as a process, in order to see how these differences influence communication

in both the American and German culture. Experiential training and learning techniques

will include: icebreakers, debates and discussions, observations, role-plays, critical

incidents/skits, and an introduction to an online journal. These methods will all be

incorporated into the workshop in order simulate ideas and incite dialogue and further

inquiry, involving participants the learning process. Instead of setting specific goals, this

style of learning allows for knowledge to emerge naturally from the group, fostering a

deeper and more personally meaningful understanding of culture for each individual. In

addition to this, a variety of written, audio, and visual mediums including a video, a

workbook, an audio dialogue, lectures, and illustrations will be used as training methods

in order to accommodate every learning style. In order for American students to

understand and function effectively in a new or different cultural milieu, a value

orientation exercise will be included.

This workshop is designed for twenty American undergraduate students studying

abroad for one year at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg in Freiburg, Germany.

Housing accommodation for the students is arranged for one year at the Seepark at

Bischoffskreutz (StuSie), where they will live amongst other German and international

students. The StuSie is a ten minute bike or streetcar ride from the university. The

workshop consists of two six-hour sessions held over one weekend in the U.S. prior to

departure. The final session takes place in Freiburg, Germany, four weeks after the start

of the German academic year. This session is expected to last approximately eight hours,

and includes an excursion to the Black Forest (free transportation is provided). Prior to

the first session of the workshop, a needs assessment is conducted evaluating the

students’ current state of knowledge based on years of German studied, time spent in

Germany, number of German and/or cultural courses. A questionnaire will be distributed

at the end of the third session to allow for student feedback and to assess program

effectiveness by comparing various training techniques and methods to actual learning



The pre-departure sessions in the U.S. will be facilitated by one male trainer from

Germany and one female trainer from the U.S., both with extensive knowledge of

German and American culture and student academic exchange programs. Both trainers

also have experience applying experiential learning techniques within a student group

setting, with value placed on process over goal orientation. The trainers will act as

moderators for the sessions, and will employ the Socratic method, posing questions and

allowing students to reach their own conclusions. Possessing a quality of openness and

self-awareness, they will remain conscious of how their own construction of reality

influences their assumptions, judgments and generalizations, so that their own biases do

not affect students’ perceptions and expectations. The trainers will be good listeners,

highly responsive to students learning needs, and must be flexible in order to improvise

and adapt to changes in the program. The same male and female trainers will be remain

in Freiburg at the disposal of the exchange students throughout the duration of the

exchange, providing a sense of continuity and sustained support for the American

students. The trainers will organize and facilitate the final session.

Pre-departure Schedule

Session 1 Session 2
Video: Welcome to Freiburg (auf Deutsch) Welcome back!

Icebreaker Icebreaker

Workbook: Individual, group assumptions Recap

Values worksheet Talk 3: Personal Environment (with Audio clip)

Venn diagram Talk 4: Academia

Talk 1: Value Orientation Questions/Discussion

Lunch Lunch

Cartoon Illustration: non-verbal communication Critical incident #1

Talk 2: Social Situations Critical incident #2

Role Play Online Journal

Session 1

Session 1 begins the video: Welcome to Freiburg (auf Deutsch), which is meant to

stimulate excitement among the American students soon traveling to Freiburg. It provides

real visual footage of life in the city and at the University while also providing a glimpse

of German culture. Hearing spoken German within the clip, the students can start to

imagine what it will actually be like to be there, in Germany, surrounded by the German

language and culture. Students will take part in an icebreaker to get to know each other

and will find out what they have in common as well as their differences, building trust

and rapport at the same time. In this icebreaker, students will stand in a circle and will

take one step forward every time they answer “yes,” to one of the questions the trainers

will ask. Questions will cover a range of topics, from favorite colors, to time spent

outside of the U.S., how many countries one has traveled to, how many years one has

studied German etc.

Students will then fill out a workbook individually where they are asked to write

down all of their assumptions (including generalizations and stereotypes) they have about

Germans, as well as possible assumptions Germans might have about Americans. For

example, Americans often perceive Germans as argumentative know-it-alls, while

Germans often perceive Americans as childish and ignorant. Collectively, the group will

come up with additional assumptions and will record these in the workbook. Awareness

of how ethnocentric perceptions and intercultural communication are shaped by these

assumptions is a critical learning objective.

Next, students will fill out a worksheet where they are asked to list the five most

typical American and German values (see Figure 1, p. 7). The students will then engage

in a discussion/debate to see where there are differences in opinion. They are encouraged

to ask themselves why do these differences matter, and what are the implications of these

differences. Knowing the differences alone is not enough; rather, the objective is to

comprehend how these differences affect both verbal and non-verbal intercultural

communication. Students will then synthesize their findings in a Venn diagram, which

may look like Figure 2 (p. 8). Before lunch, there will be a talk covering the topic of

Value Orientation (p. 8), which will draw upon and build off of the previous exercises.

After lunch, students will discover the importance of non-verbal communication through

analyzing a cartoon illustration (see Figure 3, p. 11), which will segue into a talk on

Social Situations (p. 12). The Role Play that follows (p. 15) will build off of the previous

exercises and talks, providing learning through an example of cultural miscommunication

Figure 1: Contrasting and Comparing Values

Directions: Place an “X” in In the U.S. In Germany

the boxes indicating the five
most important values
Typical American values Typical German Values

Work hard, be productive

Social justice
Obey the law
Save time, be punctual
Financial success
Openness, friendliness
Pursue happiness
Stand up for what you think is
Think on one’s feet
Know your heritage
Help other people

Figure 2: Venn-Diagram

Talk 1: Value Orientation

In order to be aware of and understand the unwritten rules and norms that govern

behavior and influence communication in any culture, it is important to identify the

different value orientations at hand. Like the U.S., Germany is assumed to be a “melting

pot” of different cultures and ethnicities; however, this concept is not equally embraced

throughout all of Germany. There are many distinct levels of regional differences in

values, between northern and southern Germany for example, between different

Bundesländer (states) and different cities. This takes the emphasis off of a single view of

Germany as a nation, and reminds us that anywhere within the nation will have what

Bennett calls its own subjective culture, or culture with a small “c.” This refers to the

“psychological features that define a group of people--their everyday thinking and

behavior--rather than to the institutions they have created.” Keeping this in mind is

necessary for the development of intercultural competence (Bennett 3). Florence

Kluckhohn takes the cultural relativist stance, that there is no inherent good or bad, right

or wrong, amongst a culture’s values, but that value judgments depend on one’s own

ethnocentric perspective. While maintaining this stance, however, keep in mind that

Germans generally tend to avoid grey areas as much as possible and want everything

clear, “Alles klar”.

In Condon’s model of intersecting spheres (below), the overlap between the three

main spheres of self, society and nature inevitably leads to conflicts. Value orientations

can be conceptualized as people’s ways of approaching and solving the conflicts that

arise. The family, human nature, and the supernatural are common, heavily value-laden

ways of reconciling the intersecting spheres.

Condon’s Intersecting of Spheres

Below is an example of values stemming from the above value orientations for

the inter-estino German and U.S. culture (variations and combinations might exist).

Some of these will be further elaborated upon in the upcoming sections. These

differences are helpful to keep in mind in terms of how they might affect communication.

Effective communication involves self-awareness, non-evaluative perception, adaptation,

and most of all, empathy. While it is useful to be aware of these potential value

differences, they are neither fixed nor universal. In fact, there has been a Wertewandel or

changing of German values when it comes to the use of informality over formality

amongst the younger generation. In addition, the view of Germans as dispassionate can

be called into question, as topics such nuclear energy and genetic engineering can be

quite emotionally charged. Asking questions relating to Germany’s history including

Hitler, the Nazi’s and the Holocaust were once taboo. Now, the younger generation is

more willing and open to engage in this conversation, but still use caution around this

subject and try not to dwell on it for too long. It is important to show interest in other

areas of Germany’s history or culture. As we look towards the past in order to define

what typical German is now, the question is no longer “what is German but when is

German” (Bausinger 30).

Figure 3: Cartoon Illustration:

Non-verbal communication on the Straßenbahn

This cartoon could be interpreted in a number of ways. Here, it is meant to depict

a common German stereotype of Americans. While abroad in Germany, two Americans

on a Straßenbahn (streetcar) are loud, disrespectful, and oblivious to their surroundings

and how others perceive their behavior. The Germans on the streetcar are irritated by the

Americans, who are ignoring the unspoken rules of the Straßenbahn. In the eyes of the

Germans, the Americans are conveying disrespect through their behavior and body

language. They are loud, throwing paper on the floor, feet up on the seat, and most

appallingly, occupying the handicapped seat despite the old man who is forced to stand.

The cartoon also depicts the difference in how each culture values the use of space. Space

is sacred to the Germans as they are accustomed to being physically close in their smaller

surroundings, whereas Americans come from a much bigger country and are used to

more having more space. The amount of space that the Americans are taking up, with feet

on the seat and legs spread wide apart, can be interpreted by others as rude, offensive and

disrespectful behavior on the Straßenbahn.

Talk 2: Social Situations

What is their problem?

One of the most alarming things Americans are quick to point out is how rigid,

intense, and distant the Germans seem to be, claiming that the Germans often come off as

rude. Both cultures are considered be ‘low context cultures,’ sharing very direct and

verbal approaches to communication, as opposed to ‘high context cultures’ that

emphasize body language and place the message within the context (Hall). Nevertheless,

there remain significant differences in exactly how the Americans and Germans prefer to

deliver information. American culture embraces more abstraction in everyday

conversation, allows for more ambiguity, and values exaggeration and story-telling,

whereas the German culture is very much to the point, placing a high value on truth and

the elimination of uncertainty. To illustrate, if an American gives a compliment followed

by a complaint or negative statement, a German is likely to be skeptical of its validity and

throw out the statement entirely. The German culture is quite indirect when it comes to

relational matters and overly direct and serious when it comes to political opinions and

intellectual topics. This is quite the opposite for most Americans, who tend to be more

open about relational matters. Both cultures take a linear path of logic in order to get to

the point, however the German culture emphasizes the actual process more seeking

consensus, while American culture places more value on the end result or goal achieved.

The Germans are more conceptual, fact oriented, systematic and analytical, while

Americans tend to be driven by achievement and accomplishment and influenced by their

intuition and gut instincts.

One interesting value both cultures share that helps explain their behavior in

social situations is the importance of individualism, but it’s a bit more complex with the

German culture. Stemming from their collective guilt over their nation’s history,

Germans will sometimes refer to their own culture as “the Germans,” rather than saying

“we,” in order to remove themselves from any negative connotations and emphasize their

individual autonomy (Honnef). At the same time, Germans tend to conform more than

Americans do in group settings, and avoid acting in ways that make them stand out.

However, if they believe they are in the right, they will have no qualms about taking

action even if it means making a scene, as they believe they are obligated to do so. This

speaks to the perception of their rigidity, as “policing each other’s behavior is not seen as

offensive but a social duty” (Mole 40). Americans, on the other hand, prefer to stay non-

confrontational and to allow people their freedom, much less bothered by a bit of social


Yes, they do have a sense of humor.

Although it might be difficult for an American to grasp right away, there is plenty

of German humor; however, there is a time and place for it. German humor is more

organized than spontaneous, often comes out in group settings, and often involves a

target. According to David Marsh, “they seldom have enough self-confidence to laugh at

themselves,” something that comes quite naturally to many Americans.

Formality and Informality

In the German language there are two versions of the pronoun used in addressing

a person: du (you) is an informal address that implies a degree of familiarity and close

relationship, while Sie (you), is a formal address that implies a greater amount of

unfamiliarity and distance. German culture makes these distinctions with different forms

of “you” in order to define status and establish power relations and distance. A word of

caution: switching to the du form requires consent of the person of higher age or status

and does not occur automatically, but needs to be mutually agreed upon.

The use of first names is so common in the U.S. that even many people from older

generations prefer to be called by their first names by anyone. In Germany, only family

and very close friends reach this first-name basis. Luckily for students, at the university,

students will almost always use the du form when addressing each other without any

discussion, because they consider themselves at the same level. As a student, make sure

to always use the Sie form when addressing a professor. Although Germany appears quite

egalitarian, it is also quite elitist in terms of its education system, which separates people

into classes to fill organizational roles.

Role Play
1.) American undergraduate student with a basic level of German
2.) Herr Geiger (40-50-year-old father of a German friend)
Location: German friends’ house after dinner with the family
Purpose: How not to act in a conversation with an older German. To gain awareness of
how value and cultural differences affect communication.

Herr Geiger asks the student very directly in English why Americans can’t seem

to learn other languages well. The American feels embarrassed and insulted by his

friends’ father, as his German is not very good and instantly becomes defensive. He

immediately proceeds to tell the father how easy it is for the Europeans to learn different

languages because of their geographic proximity. He passionately asserts that if America

had a similar geography, Americans would have absolutely no problem learning and

excelling at other languages.

Meanwhile, Herr Geiger is listening while keeping intense eye contact. The

student looks away and is uncomfortable. The student continues his defensive rant, going

on to complain about how much effort it has taken him to learn the German language,

claiming that it is harder for English speakers to learn German than it is for German

speakers to learn English. Then he points to the fact that he has made the journey all the

way over to Germany to learn more about the language and culture, a journey that has

been full of difficulties and challenges that he has had to overcome along the way. He

then pauses and waits for some kind of apology or acknowledgement, however, it never


This role play provides a classic example of an American’s strong negative

reaction to what is perceived as an older German’s rudeness. The American makes the

mistake of taking the German’s statement too personally, interpreting the question as a

personal attack, which was not necessarily the German man’s intent. However, one needs

to expect that Germans have strong opinions and can be very direct and challenging. Put-

downs are used not out of malice or aggression, but as a way of making it harder for the

other person to prove them wrong.

Instead of pausing to brush off the initial shock and anger and think about how

best to approach answering the question, the student reacts emotionally, diving straight

into an impassioned and defensive rant. Germans consider this behavior to be quite

informal, lacking thought process, tact and patience. By allowing himself to get

emotional, the American makes the bold claim that if it wasn’t for the geography of the

U.S., Americans would have absolutely no problem in learning and excelling at other

languages. This comes off to Herr Geiger as overstated, simplified, and unsubstantiated;

essentially a worthless argument because it is entirely hypothetical.

The student is also made uncomfortable by Herr Geiger’s silence and piercing eye

contact, which is quite typical in German conversations, and is a sign of listening and

respect. The student also attempts a desperate appeal to Herr Geiger’s sense of empathy,

going into a lengthy explanation of his “trials and tribulations.” He is unsuccessful

because many Germans do not see the need to praise and recognize someone for merely

good effort or standard achievement; not only do they not consider it warranted, they

would not assume such praise to be expected or appreciated by the recipient.

The student would have been much more successful if he had stayed level-

headed, paused to collect his thoughts, and responded in a reflective manner. If he felt a

strong personal reaction, there would have been no harm in stating matter-of-factly that,

“It feels to me, Herr Geiger, as though you are trying to put me down.” If Herr Geiger

denies this, reiterating that from his perspective, most Americans he meets are terrible

German speakers, the student could then offer his explanations for why this is: that

because of our geography and because of the global prevalence of English, learning other

languages is not as much of a necessity given our geography, that most Americans start

learning another language much later in their education.

Session 2

Session 2 opens with another icebreaker and a recap of Session 1. For this

icebreaker, the students will divide into two groups. Each group will design a simple skit

that involves everyone in order to demonstrates their understanding of the cultural

differences between Americans and Germans. During the presentation of each skit, the

other group will have to identify who are playing the Americans, and who are playing the

Germans and explain how they arrived at their conclusions. One tip for developing skits

that will be challenging to interpret include the use of non-verbal communication.

Accents are not allowed. The students will then hear a talk on German cultural norms

from the German trainer as they pertain to the Personal Environment (see below), which

includes an audio clip about friendships. Next, the students will hear a talk on Academia

in Germany (p. 19), highlighting differences from the academia that American students

are used to. The talks will be followed by a chance for students to ask questions and

discuss the topics further. After lunch, a presentation will be given providing a Critical

Incident (p. 20) example in the context of academia, to provide a real-world example of

the differing set of expectations American students might be faced with in the German

university system. Students will refer to what they’ve learned from the first Critical

Incident in order to design and present their own critical incidents to the class in groups

of four. Students will then be set up with an online journal, which they will be able to use

abroad to document their experiences and receive ongoing support, feedback, and advice

from fellow students.

Talk 3: Personal Environment

They’ll have order, and expect you to do the same.

A common German saying you might have heard already is, Ordnung muss sein:

there must be order. Germans may seem, at times, obsessed with adhering to rules and

regulations. It’s been observed that many Germans “often view giving up certain

individual rights as a fair trade in creating a better and more ordered society” (Nees, 49).

The desire for stability is rooted in Germany’s turbulent history of volatility and

uncertainty. Placing such a high value on order and stability has led to some inflexibility,

intolerance, and opposition to forms of ambiguity such as allowing for exceptions to the

rules. Many Germans remain quite cautious and hesitant to change and trying new things;

anything that takes them out of their comfort zone. This is in contrast to many

Americans, who often feel quite comfortable with change, even thrive with it, enjoying

the need to be quick on their feet, often bending the rules or taking shortcuts.

German value orientations influence many different aspects of their personal

lives, including their friendships and relationships with others. For example (audio clip),

Germans tend to avoid going outside of their familiar group to make friends, as they have

a set notion of outsiders vs. insiders. It’s not that Germans fear people who are different

than themselves; rather, there is an uncertainty as to whether or not that person might be

good company. This presupposition might be rather discouraging for an Americans

actively seeking to make a lot of German friends. Americans should be aware that

Germans tend to form friendships based on common interests, and based on who they

like and who they think will like them. They are less likely to reach out for friendship out

of mere politeness or social obligation, thus, while they may have less total friends as a

result, German friendships tend to be very close, strong, and deep. As Germans are most

concerned with the process instead of the end result and are not goal-oriented, they value

the quality over the quantity of their friendships immensely.

Talk 4: Academia in Germany

Studying at the university level in Germany is very different than in the states.

Class attendance and participation do not constitute a percentage of one’s grade as does

in the U.S. Classes are mainly lecture and performance is evaluated at the end of the class

with an exam. Lateness to class is not accepted and is considered rude. It is the students’

responsibility to keep up with the course subject through reading on one’s own. Focus

questions, reviews, helpful hits, extra help and other forms of hand-holding behavior that

Americans are accustomed to is not found in Germany. Praise and recognition are seldom

given even if someone puts forth a good effort, as Germans are self-reliant individuals

who believe that a job well done is the norm, and who constantly strive for perfection.

They, unlike many Americans, do not rely on praise to build their confidence, motivate

achievement, or drive their sense of self worth. On the contrary, giving Germans

unnecessary praise is likely to be embarrassing to them. One exception would be if

someone goes above and beyond expectations. Knocking on the table, instead of clapping

after a presentation, has become the norm in German classrooms.

Critical Incident #1:


Marie is studying International Relations at the University of Freiburg, in

Freiburg, Germany. She has an upcoming presentation to give on Kant in her class: War

and Peace. Five days before her presentation, her professor asks about the details of her

presentation. She goes over a very brief outline of what she intends to cover, but admits

that she still has quite a bit of work to do on it, for she’s been very busy lately, as her

parents are in town. The professor becomes serious and begins to ask her for specific

examples she will give to the class to illustrate her arguments, what questions and

counter-arguments she anticipates might arise, and how she will respond. Marie insists

that she’ll be able to come up with some examples during her presentation, and says that

first she’ll try to get a feel for how receptive the class is. She explains that she feels

confident answering on-the-spot questions and addressing counter-arguments that might

arise, and implies that she’s not gonna sweat the small stuff. The next day, the professor

informs Marie that her presentation has been pushed back to the following week, and to

be prepared. Why did this happen?

1.) The professor wanted to go easy on Marie and give her more time because her family
was visiting.

2.) Her presentation time was changed due to a scheduling conflict of another student.

3.) The professor was concerned about Marie’s lack of preparedness for the presentation
and rejected improvisation and thinking on one’s feet as successful means of

4.) The professor wanted Marie to feel incompetent by treating her as such.

Post-arrival Workshop Schedule

Session 3
Excursion via Bus into the Black Forest

Exchange of personal experiences:

meeting expectations, surprises and challenges

Re-visit Workbook assumptions

Discussion -----> Dialogue

Wrap up: Q & A, big ideas

Session 3:

While they travel together in a fun excursion to the Black Forest, the post-arrival

session will primarily involve interaction and collective learning amongst the American

students through the sharing of their experiences in Germany after one month of study.

Students will re-visit their written assumptions of what is considered to be typical

German from the first two sessions in their workbook, and will compare and contrast this

with what they actually experienced in Germany through discussion and eventual

dialogue. The session and workshop will wrap up with questions and answers, and a

summery of the main ideas that students have taken away from the workshop. The second

survey will be handed out, completed and collected.


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