Graduate studies provides a refreshing opportunity for an immersive education experience. For Sara Marsh, a graduate of the Joint MA in Intercultural German Studies (IcGS) who spent one year of her studies at the University of Mannheim, this couldn’t be truer.
“I felt so empowered to live in another country and survive seminars that were completely in German, including all the cultural references,” says Sara who entered the master’s program (MA) in the fall of 2013 at the University of Waterloo campus. In her first term, she attended weekly lectures and shadowed a German language class for beginners. The structure of that course meant that partway through she assumed the teaching and discussion responsibilities for the language lab sessions. In her courses, such as Methods of Research, instruction was delivered in both English and German, allowing for a challenging and dynamic learning experience.
Upon the completion of her fall term, Sara packed her bags and headed to Mannheim to immerse herself in the culture from January to December 2014. “With this opportunity to live and study abroad, my confidence and proficiency in the language grew exponentially,” she says.
Joining a cohort composed mainly of German second language students, Sara’s learning curve and process of adapting to the new environment was shared alongside her peers. When Canadian students arrive in Waterloo, they also join a group of German IcGS students who are partway through their equivalent year abroad in Canada, which means experiencing a mixture of cultures right from the start. At Mannheim, the courses are more self-directed, where students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning, and seek out supplementary reading material and learning opportunities to bolster knowledge of the subject matter.
This unparalleled opportunity also meant that Sara was able to delve into her passion for teaching, an element that is nurtured within the Intercultural German Studies program. Now qualified as a teacher in German, Sara says, “I started this language from scratch. I know what it means and how it feels to fumble your way through as you learn. It is my own humble and hardworking experience that I can offer my students; a safe place to learn a language without worry of perfection, but with a confidence to try.”
Along with classes and seminars at the University of Mannheim, Sara completed one of her teaching assistantships as a co-teaching venture between herself and a Mannheim-based student. Together they planned and delivered lessons for an intensive second-year summer language course for Canadians abroad. Sara also enrolled in an internship to be a student administrative staff member, a role that provided her with a diverse set of tasks including data collection, archiving, and document design work. Among the many academic and professional development opportunities, Sara was also able to work with a Mannheim professor to translate and edit academic material for an English-speaking audience.
During the program, Sara also completed the University Language Teaching certificate at Waterloo, which included six language-teaching workshops, two microteaching sessions of practice-teaching, as well as teaching observations and a research project. Sara’s experience in the teaching designation, coupled with the support she received from her department helped her to create a strong teaching dossier, which subsequently helped her to secure sessional teaching positions at multiple universities.
Sara considers her master’s education a strong step toward her ongoing professional development. While some of her classmates from the Joint Intercultural German Studies MA have gone into publishing, academic administration, or to work for cultural institutes, others, including Sara, were later inspired to pursue their PhD. Sara began her doctoral studies in German at the University of Waterloo in fall 2017.