What was your biggest fear in college?

Alone among Trump kids

Educational year abroad in the USA

  • COUNTRY: United States
    No. 7/2017, pp. 8-11

“Gays and lesbians are disgusting,” shouts my new classmate, whose name I don't even know. When I indignantly forbid myself to do so, she shouts the sentence again across the classroom. “You just don't get it!” She yells. "Maybe you just don't understand me," I yell back. Mr Johnson, our politics teacher, looks around with a little desperation. Never before has such a controversy arose in any of his classes. Least of all on this subject.

"Maybe you're just not listening to us, Paulina," says Mr Johnson finally, after he has regained his composure. I protest. But in reality they are both right. Not in the matter, but in principle: It's my first day of high school, I'm a senior, so in my senior year. And I don't understand anything at all. It's not because of the language barrier. I spent the first 17 years of my life in Berlin. During the day, progressive private school with an eco-social commitment, in the evening a party in Monbijou Park der Admiralsbrücke, Kreuzberg Convinced vegetarian. When the question arose whether I would like to spend a year in high school abroad, I thought, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco? I'm coming! It then became the middle of a cornfield, as we say here. Minnesota. 55 minutes by car from a real metropolis. At least one thinks here that Minneapolis is a real metropolis.

My city has 1,500 inhabitants. 99 percent of them are white. A long history of Scandinavian immigrants. A main street as you know it from films. Gas station, fire station, diner, pizzeria, bar, then you're outside again. When the notification came about where I was going, my parents had said, "Hey, madness, spend a year in the real America." I didn't know what they meant by that. But I still remember that I felt invincible. And now I'm in Mr Johnson's class and I feel like the world is less mine than ever. Why is nobody here protesting except me when homosexuals are being discriminated against? Why is Mr. Johnson silent? When I walk home from school on that first day, I can't believe it. Is that supposed to be the USA? There are a number of so-called "sensitive topics", on which teachers are encouraged to only enter into conflicts if they do not harm the scholastic and personal development of the students. Under no circumstances should teachers take a position. But that's very difficult to do in the classroom, so poor Mr Johnson often tries to avoid sensitive topics altogether. But sometimes things just take their course.

I'm seated next to Ashlie in Politics class. This is the girl I had an argument with on the first day. Ashlie is very pretty, very socially committed, very religious and, like many here, has a lot of siblings. In her case there are ten. When we discuss the pros and cons of the presidential candidates, she just croaks: "Hillary kills babies." Hillary kills young children. I decide not to speak to her anymore. Hillary is “pro-choice”, which is not considered good here. Trump is “pro-life”, everyone thinks that is great. To put it less American, Hillary is for legal abortions, Trump is against. Nobody else likes Hillary either. Neither does President Obama. During the school year, we mostly talk about what's good about Donald Trump. At one point, Mr Johnson asks me to tell the class about the pros and cons of Trump. I mainly get information from the New York Times website, which describes him every day anew as lying, racist and incompetent. That's why I can't think of any positive aspects of Trump right away. "Well, difficult question," I stutter. "He's rich, maybe he can give something to the people."

"I'm no longer in Berlin, at my school where teachers openly express their political opinions and students do the same"

Ashlie starts snorting next to me. So loudly that Mr. Johnson cannot help but ask her to speak. “The great thing about Trump is not that he can finance his campaign himself or give us some of his money. Why did I want money that I didn't even earn? Money and material things are only really satisfying for me if I have earned it with my own hands. ”Ashlie gets louder and louder as she speaks, and when I am already happy that she has finished, she starts again. “Trump shows us that the American dream is a reality. He shows us that we can achieve anything and that we don't have to be ashamed of our own opinions. With Trump, someone is finally trying not to pretend what a do-gooder he is. ”She really says that. Just like that. I swear. Many of my classmates nod. I feel like I'm in a parallel universe. I'm no longer in Berlin, at my school, where teachers openly express their political opinions and students do the same. I don't know whether the teachers are allowed to do that in Germany, ours certainly do. Here in my tiny village in Minnesota, not all of my surroundings are green, left, against the AfD and otherwise agree with me about what is good and what is bad. What works and what doesn't work at all.

“And that's how I make friends. From now on I am called "The German"

In Berlin I say: gay marriage is a matter of course, the theory of evolution is true, the quota for women is important, unemployment benefits are great, God does not exist, but “global warming” is a real and great threat to humanity. I can't say anything about it in Minnesota. In general, we never talk as directly as in that first lesson, only around it. In the bio class we write a paper about the Big Bang. When Ashlie crossed out all the questions and wrote down the creation story from the Bible, she got the full number of points. Another girl at our table asks: "Do you believe in the theory of evolution?" "Of course, at least it is more realistic than the theory of creation," I answer. The girl never greets me in the hallway again and doesn't even seem to see me anymore. When Ashlie finds out, she grins. "The people here are not used to hearing something like that openly, Paulina." She says. “And don't think now that I want to hear it. But I think you're interesting. ”The Ashlie thing turned out unexpectedly. In the first few months I find it really difficult to make friends, let alone make friends. There are invisible walls everywhere. It becomes clear to me that if I insist on my deviating positions, then I will also remain outside the community. So alone. Because there is nobody else there. At some point I have exhausted my energy and only listen in silence when someone says: "Hillary for prison 2k16." But then, on a Friday evening, Ashlie calls me completely unexpectedly and asks if I can go with them would come to football. I once gave her my number because of a joint presentation.

Football? With Ashlie? But since I usually only have dates with Netflix, I agree. It's my first football game, our high school versus the school in the nearest dump. The ultimate highlight of the week for the whole place. The school band that plays is really not bad. The football boys are considered hot all over the school. The spectators shout like: "Let them bleed", let the opponents bleed. After 20 minutes, I'm hooked too. "We'll finish you off, you assholes." Oops. That probably slipped out, in German, but everyone around me in the stands is absolutely thrilled. "Ass hole" is one of the two German words that everyone knows. The other is "health". A small chorus arises spontaneously, yelling “you assholes”. And that's how I make friends. From now on I am called "The German". But I'm in. And even if Ashlie is not in the "asshole" choir because her religion forbids her to swear - from that day on we start to get along better and better. "Paulina, if you don't share my opinion, try anyway to take her seriously and understand why I agree," she says. Sounds a little too pastoral to me, but I really can't be as picky here as in Berlin. I also like Ashlie.

"Help, what if I come back and I'm totally different?"

For the first time, I have a friend who I disagree with about our view of the world, how it is and how it should be. We're doing it American and just don't talk about it anymore. Since the policy course has come to an end, it works great. I see all the positive things about Ashlie now. She thinks a lot. She doesn't constantly care about her appearance like the others. She feels most comfortable when she is inconspicuous. Your mother is super nice; when I'm with them, she cooks vegetarian food for me with the greatest willingness to experiment. She apparently handles the eleven children on the side. At the weekend I sometimes go to church, otherwise there's nowhere to go. After the terrorist attack in Brussels, I caught myself thinking about praying for the victims and their families. I call my mother immediately and start crying: “Help, what if I come back and I'm totally different?” A homophobic prayer sister or something. She thinks that's out of the question, but I'm not so sure anymore. I realize I really didn't understand Ashlie at first, just as she and Mr. Johnson said. There is only one gay couple in our village. When I see them for the first time, I also change the side of the street. This is not because they are homosexual, but because of their very, very unkempt looks. But for many here, they're the only homosexual couple they've seen in their lives. They think they all look like the one couple.

"Many have never been confronted with another language and have therefore developed a subliminal fear"

Over time, I realize that most of my friends have never left the United States. Some not even Minnesota. “Do you have electricity everywhere in Germany?” “Are you Germans really always drunk?” “What language do they speak in Germany?” These are not questions that I am asked only once. It's true that the US is very self-centered, but it's also pretty hard to get out of, geographically. Big country. Mountains, sea, everything there. Many have never been confronted with another language and have therefore developed a subliminal fear. The fear of not being understood or of not finding one's way abroad is great and is promoted by the media. As I spend more and more time with my American friends, I also realize where they got their political views. Fox News is up and down in most households. There are constant comparisons made between Obama and Hitler. The way I experience it, Trump practically sprang from this television news channel.

Example: One fine Monday we're sitting in our psychology class with Mrs. Bellter. The educational promise is: college level. But it's the first hour and I'm still close to sleep. "Which man in American history could be compared to Adolf Hitler in terms of mentality?" Asks Mrs Bellter. The answer is instant: "Obama!" I jump up, but Mrs Bellter just laughs. It is a rhetorical question that she asks only for her own and the class amusement. “What's the problem with Obama anyway?” I ask. Everyone is laughing at me. As if that was really a question. But, well, stupid: “He wants to give everyone health insurance.” And: “He wants to take our weapons away from us.” You don't need to say more. Hunting is the number one hobby here, the fear of deprivation of the beloved weapons is great. My host parents put a rifle in my hand as soon as I arrived. When I tell them that everyone in Germany has health insurance because there is compulsory health insurance, they are not at all enthusiastic. “It's totally unfair that people who don't work should still get the same insurance as someone who works day and night. If I've worked hard for my wealth, it would be unfair if I didn't have better health insurance, ”says my host father.

There are even weekly anti-terrorism exercises at my village school "

In my political class in Berlin we would teach him that he is falling for an ideology that seeks to preserve class differences. In Minnesota, I accept that my host parents have different ideas about justice. And freedom too. “It should be my decision whether I take out health insurance,” says my host mother. "Man is no longer free when the state does everything." I answer: "For me, justice is when everyone has the same opportunities." Sometimes I have the feeling that I have ended up in a country where a A dog's life counts more than that of a Muslim. At lunch people now often talk about fear of IS and refugees. “I can't believe that Obama now wants us to take in refugees. I don't understand why other countries can't take them, ”says my friend Paul. Exactly, everyone says. When I pointed out in a moderate tone that Germany has taken in almost a million refugees and almost all other countries are shifting responsibility, it becomes quiet. “Maybe we should take a few from Germany,” says Paul. In the near future, nobody will dare to speak about the refugee crisis in front of me.

When we go shopping in town, the adults brief us beforehand. "Be careful, there are lesbians in Minneapolis," it once said. Another time Ashlie's mother says: "If you see Muslim-looking people in a department store, run out immediately." At first you don't know whether to laugh or cry. But the truth is, people have been terrified of terrorism since 9/11. And they associate fear with Muslims and thus also with Muslim refugees. There are even weekly anti-terrorism drills at my village school. Then suddenly the loudspeakers echo: “This school is on lockdown. Teachers, please secure your areas. ”Then the light is switched off and the door is locked. All students have to sit under their desks and stay there for a while. Terrorism is probably the greatest fear here. "We have to arm the teachers," says Mr Johnson at every opportunity. He often forgets that he shouldn't take a political position.

"But at some point I will realize what everyone meant by real America."

I also visit major American cities with my host family. By my standards, New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. all OK". So the tendency is similar to that in our big cities. The way people think and talk there reminds me of my life in Berlin. But at some point I realize what everyone meant by real America. To a large extent, the US is not New York, but what I experienced. People who live in villages between corn fields. And now something strange has happened. My American school friends go to college, most of them in Minnesota. And I'm back in Berlin, and my friends here say: “Luckily you didn't become so American.” But I'm not sure about that. If one of my German friends is now talking about "the Americans" and how stupid these idiots are to vote for Trump, then I say: "You don't understand." I tell them that they might also vote for Trump if they did would have grown up somewhere between cornfields with completely different values. I very much hope Hillary Clinton becomes president. I hope so for those who want Trump too. But when I think of the people there, I don't see any stupid idiots in front of me, but people who think Trump is good and have taught me that you can treat each other with respect, even if you think fundamentally differently. Nobody at my school is allowed to know that, but I can now even imagine being in a relationship with someone who votes for the CDU.

Paulina Unfried, 18, attends a school in Berlin. Her stay in the USA gave her a unique insight into “another world”.The text was published in the taz on the weekend shortly before the presidential election (October 14, 2016) and sparked a great discussion.

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