Every beginning holds its own magic…

This quote from author Hermann Hesse perfectly describes the last session of our virtual program “Azubis go USA”. Because with every ending something new begins. But let’s start at the beginning…

We get going by looking back at our last seven weeks together. On the 17th of September we had our first virtual meeting where we got to know each other, discussed our expectations and the topics and tasks for the weeks ahead. Michael Theissen-Jones, Director Global Business Development, at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, was our first speaker that introduced us to Metro Atlanta and Georgia. This was a great start to what we learned during this program since Michael was born in Germany but has been living in the U.S. for quite some time.

In the following week we changed perspectives and discovered other cultures as “Cultural detectives”. Our guest speaker John Fluker, CEO of Grenzebach Corporation of Americas, showed us the differences as well as the similarities between the German and the U.S. business cultures.

The week after that, Deborah Steinborn, an American Journalist who works for „Die Zeit” was able to rivet us with her personal history but even more with her research about the topic of “Leadership” and the challenges around German and American work-cultures as well as gender differences in leadership.

This topic was even more focused on in our fourth weeks session in which we talked about different identities and boundaries. Something new to us was what “The right to work” and the status of unions in the USA means. What differences there are regarding the health care system and employment contracts. Gaby Beyer, Director HR & Communication, Actemium INP North America Inc., told us about her daily work and emphasized that American employment contracts are a big challenge for European companies. Gaby said, “Humans are the most important capital”. She and her company strife to meet the needs of their employees in a competitive environment.

The week after that, we talked about dealing with controversies with a special focus on the “Black Lives Matter” movement and its development in the USA and around the world. Our guest was Vanya Allen, a black artist, singer, performer, and activist. She was able to describe her experiences with racism and what it means to have “White Privilege”, all the while showing an amazing sense of humor.

That gave us a lot to think about when our next week’s speaker Rotey, a rapper, producer, and marketing expert, talked to us about “Influence” to either influence or to be influenced. Much of his advice will have an impact on our own lives: „Bring more into the world of what you want to see” and if you lack momentum, change one small thing, get one small win!

All these sessions concluded in how we celebrate achievements – the topic for the final speaker session. This can look surprisingly different in various cultures. In our talk with Dr. Jennifer Clinton, President of Cultural Vistas, and Dr. Nina Lemmens, Board Member of the Joachim-Herz-Stiftung, we learned about their experiences with leadership situations, how to deal with success and failures, but also about the importance of challenging yourself to try out something new.

And this already led us to our very last session…

Together we looked back, discussed our insights, and presented our highlights in form of an “Elevator Speech”. All of this made us think about the future:

Some of us will visit Atlanta, Georgia, and Kennesaw State University next year.

Some of us will stay in touch with our KSU Peer Buddies and might even visit each other.

Some of us will plan more experiences abroad with our improved language skills and intercultural knowledge.

But one thing is clear: every one of us grew during this program – personally and professionally – improving our English language skills and filled with more knowledge in very divers topics.

With the end of our program “Azubis go USA” there is also a new beginning for everyone with new perspectives and goals. Because every beginning holds its own magic…

P.S.: We want to thank Yulia, Sabine and Iris for their wonderful work during our sessions and for the huge amount of work they also put in before and after every meeting. Please keep on doing this great program so that after us many more Azubis get the chance for such a great experience.

We want to thank all our guest speakers and peer buddies as well for their time and the insights we were able to get. THANK YOU!

Dealing with successes and failures

In the session before last, we talked about celebrations and achievements. First, we talked about how we recognize our achievements and what we find great and embarrassing. We found out that there are also cultural differences, such as different traditions at Christmas or for birthday celebrations. While people in America celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day the 25th. In Germany Christmas Eve is where gifts are exchanged and has much more importance. On birthdays in America people often celebrate the whole week, or month, while in Germany people usually celebrate one day with family and one day with friends.

In addition, we still talked about self-recognition and recognition of others. We were shown the poem by Amanda Gorman, who is a 22-year-old American, poet laureate. She recited it at the inauguration of President Biden in January of this year. Her speech was very motivating, especially emphasized because of linguistic means and her gestures.

Before our guest speakers came, we talked about our “elevator speeches” in small groups. After delivering the speeches, we gave each other constructive feedback using the sandwich method.

Today we had guest speakers giving talks about success and failure in Germany and the USA. For this reason, we welcomed Dr. Jennifer Clinton, President and CEO at Cultural Vistas in the US and Dr. Nina Lemmens, Member of the Board of the Joachim-Herz Foundation from Germany.

Dr. Jennifer Clinton
Dr. Nina Lemmens

Both women are in leadership positions and were therefore able to tell us about their experiences on this topic. That was compelling, because we were able to pose questions to two women who did pretty much the same tasks, but in different countries and different cultures.

Therefore Ms. Lemmens was able to give us an insight into the German work world and Ms. Clinton for the USA and how they have dealt with difficult leadership issues as well as what they have achieved in their roles.

In addition to professional experience, we also heard private stories from the lives of our guest speakers. They have given us a lot of good advice on what we should think about when looking at our future. For example, that we should do what we really love, because only then can we love what we do.

Another topic was how to deal with mistakes with their employees. Those answers were very similar. They both said it is about the type of error, regardless of how big or how serious it is. But both had the opinion that they must analyze the errors to fix them in the best way so that they don’t happen again in the future and how they can make sure their staff has the right training and support.

It was a super interesting session because they both came across very natural and real. We could follow their actions and thoughts very well. They gave us insights and that showed us what it is like to be a boss, even if there are more than just good moments. It was a successful hour, because us trainees also saw the other side and you can now understand certain actions of our employers better.

How do you influence in business and music?

Today’s session was about influencing the business and the music industries.

To loosen up the start of the discussion, we listened to and talked about the song “Even if I go broke” by our guest speaker and Rapper, Rotey.

Our first topic of discussion in this session was marketing strategies. We were presented with various advertising campaigns, including the launch of Wal-Mart in Germany back in 1998, which failed due to the cultural differences of their business concept. We then dealt with failed marketing campaigns in small groups. However, we found that we didn’t think of many marketing failures that spontaneously. Back in the big round of discussions, some of them had a few suggestions after all. The whole group agreed that these were failed marketing campaigns. Together we then looked for reasons for the failure of these campaigns and found a few. There can be language barriers as well as cultural differences. Furthermore, some advertisements are also sexist and subliminally racist. This is not well received by consumers.

After a short break, we then turned our attention to the influence in the music industry. To get started, we compared TOP TEN hits of 2020 in the USA, Great Britain, and Germany. We found some similarities, among other things, “Rockstar” DaBaby featuring Roddy Rich and “Blinding Lights” from The Weeknd were represented in the TOP TEN in all 3 countries. Those were the only songs the USA and Germany had in common.

But what makes a successful song?

As with many things, there is no guaranteed recipe for success, but there are mistakes that are very important to avoid. For example, it is advisable to have a marketing plan. It is also said: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Another aspect is the controversy in music. What about blackfishing? What about controversial content? Does this, as a listener, support questionable attitudes towards the world? Should you sing along with problematic lyrics as a listener?

We got to the bottom of these questions again in small groups. We then evaluated our results in the big group.

In the last hour we had the honor of listening to Rotey (Daniel Rotenberg). He is a rapper, produces his own music and has a degree in marketing. He is a graduate of the MEBUS program at Kennesaw State University. He is a very inspiring and positive personality, and it was very fascinating to be able to be in direct dialogue with him. He had a lot of good advice for us, which we were all very happy to receive. For example, he said: “Be the change you want to see in the world!”.

How can we deal with controversies?

The fourth session of our program was about how to deal with controversies, how to identify them and what problems they might cause. To introduce the topic, everyone was asked to define two problems for themselves and in the next step to develop possible solutions. Among others, climate change, famine or the increasing tendency to extremism were addressed. Above all, it became apparent, that to combat all these major problems, we need most of the population committed to work on them.  

Building up to this, we looked at Geert Hofstede’s taxonomy, which describes the four dimensions of culture:

Power distance: The extent of the balance of power in a culture and how they are distributed. 

Individualism vs. Collectivism: The extent to which an individual’s interests are subordinate to, or superior to those of the group.

Masculinity vs. femininity: Who in the culture is responsible for what tasks. 

Uncertainty avoidance: How unfamiliar situations are handled.  

Regarding that we looked at a few examples of inequality between black and white Americans and observed that in areas such as education, health insurance, crime, and wealth, there are significant disparities that prove black Americans are still disadvantaged. For this reason, football player Colin Kaepernick, among others, refused to stand during the national anthem in 2016, instead he kneeled symbolically. He said he didn’t want to show pride for a country that still oppresses its black population. Cheerleaders at Kennesaw University also showed their solidarity by kneeling during a game, which caused a lot of controversy and resulted even in a lawsuit.  

Unfortunately, despite its history, inequality in the American population is still pervasive. What others take for granted, black and brown Americans must continue to fight for.  

Vanya Allen 

Our guest speaker today was Vanya Allen, she is not only an artist and singer, but also an educator and linguist. In addition, she uses her voice and listening skills in African American Vernacular English for community and identity building as well as organizing and activism. 

This allowed Vanya to share with us her knowledge of a wide variety of American colloquialisms and to help us understand in what situations the use of vernacular or traditional English is appropriate. She also told us how they differ and that it is sometimes possible to identify where a person is from, just by analyzing their language. Even more, we exchanged about the meaning of different words in different regions of America and defined the differences in body languages.  

The last topic we covered was “The Talk”, which in the United States is often considered a one-time conversation between parents and teenagers, where, for example, sexuality or other sensitive topics are discussed. But Vanya proved us wrong. In African American families the topic of racism is much more about an ongoing education that is not based on a single conversation.  

In conclusion, it is not only important to be aware of cultural differences, but also to understand them and to be able to apply them in the right context. 

Personal development is not only characterized by your appearance..

How does the path to (intercultural) competence actually work? How do I acquire it? And what are the working conditions like in America and Germany? These were the questions addressed in our last session on the topic of boundaries and belonging.

After a short review of last week’s topic on Leadership styles and a short summary, the session started with an introductory question.

Friday night…in the pandemic: what’s your favorite thing to do?

After a brief internal survey, it quickly became clear that many who once tended to hang out with friends were spending more time in close-knit family circles and have become a bit more “quiet.”
This was followed by an assessment of what people are particularly grateful for and what they no longer have to worry about.
Here, too, the statements were very similar: many are thankful that they have remained healthy, that they were able to keep their job, or that hybrid working was introduced, that the friendships have lasted despite contact restrictions, and that one no longer worries about the mask mandate, since Corona and masks have determined our daily lives for almost two years.

DR. Milton J Bennett

How (interculturally) competent are you?

In everyday life as well as in the pandemic, it is very important to be able to empathize, or to understand and respect others. However, this is not the case for everyone and there are different views on the topic of intercultural competence.
Dr. Milton J. Bennett has developed the so-called Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), by which it should be recognizable in which stage of intercultural development one is:

What level are you at?

The DMIS is a model that describes the reactions of people dealing with cultural differences and includes 6 stages:

  • Denial: People refuse to acknowledge that cultural differences exist.
  • Defense: People experience cultural difference as threatening.
  • Minimization: A person can leave behind their polarized worldview by paying more attention to the “human commonalities,” yet must develop a greater awareness of his or her own cultural imprint and learn that there are many cultural differences in addition to commonalities.
  • Acceptance: One should sharpen one’s perception for cultural contrasts, take cultural differences into account and practice the cultural change of perspective.
  • Adaptation: One should further perfect the ability to change perspective and further develop the ability to empathize.
  • Integration: a person has developed a sense of belonging to two or more cultures. He or she can deal well with cultural relativity and responds appropriately depending on the cultural context.

The conventional and capitalist world of work in America

Different labor laws prevail in the U.S. states. A majority of the states (red) represent right-to-work states, which give workers the freedom to choose whether to join a union and pay
dues.

The remaining U.S. states act as union states, meaning they require workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. These dues are intended to provide better working conditions and benefits within the respective industries, trades, and businesses.

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”MLK (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), 1961

Gaby Beyer

This week, our guest speaker was Gaby Beyer, Director HR & Communication, Actemium INP North America, Inc. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1992 and has been working as a human resources manager in communications ever since.
She shared her professional experiences with German and American employment law and how the health care system and health insurance are regulated in the U.S. A relevant guiding principle we took away from her Q&A is: “Humans are the most important capital.” A philosophy that is widely shared in the U.S. that human capital is the most important asset a company has, without humans you simply don’t have a company, no matter what your product is.

At the end of our session, it was very interesting to see how different the working worlds in the USA and Germany are and how important it is to have high intercultural competence.

Do you also have a leadership style?

Why do you like your role model?

Having a role model, it is not about the person itself, meaning if she or he is big or small, strong, or weak. It is more about their character traits. As an example: You might not like Stephan Hawking since he was sitting in a wheelchair, but you probably like him, because he had a strong mind and huge willpower. Same for Batman: he could be your superhero since he wants to help others and wants to protect them, not because he is wearing a nice black superhero outfit.

Last Friday we learned that there are lot of different role models / superhero’s, by learning about the “Five Love Languages”, ways to show how they care in different ways. Some hero’s like to talk to you and give you praise and recognition. Some tend to give you gifts and other material things. Others want to spend quality time with the other person. Other’s wanting to show their recognition by physical closeness or like to do things for you to show you that they care. 

The different kinds of leadership

As there are a lot of different role models and superheroes, as I mentioned above, there are also different kinds of leadership styles, which you can see below.

Everyone has a favorite leader, who he or she prefers. 

Due to similarities and differences of a leader and the associated ways they lead and the style that the receiving person prefers, or has, that can also be cause of conflict. 

For example, a Guardian, who is more methodically and detail oriented would potentially have a problem with someone that is a Pioneer and less into details and more spontaneous. 

On the other hand, an Integrator, who for example likes to motivate others via gifts and praises, were the receiving person appreciates that style and feels validated, is an example of good communication and leadership without conflict. 

Leadership in the U.S. vs. Germany

Our speaker Deborah Steinborn, is a bilingual journalist, editor, moderator and speaker. She creates, writes and manages content for international known media groups. As a reporter and author, Ms. Steinborn covers the intersection of economics, politics and society. She has covered stories in more than 30 countries, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Die Zeit, Financial Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Business Week, Cambodia Daily, Forbes Magazine and World Policy Journal, among others.Ms. Steinborn was born and raised in the U.S., but is now living and working in Hamburg, Germany.

She was able to join us on short notice and we were lucky to have her as our guest speaker. She talked about cultural differences in leadership in her presentation and gave us plenty of examples. 

The differences in leadership in the U.S. and Germany already starts with the definition: 

„The power or ability to lead other people “– Merriam Webster

vs.

„Being led; responsible leadership “– German Dictionary

In Germany it is more about responsible leadership and consensus and willingness of a group of people to be lead. In the U.S. it is more about using the power and ability to lead others with little consensus.

Differences in company hierarchy/consensus (left GER / right USA):

You can split leadership in many different categories. There are basically “male and female” “young and old” and cultural leadership styles, which can be totally different. For us virtual exchange Azubis and peer buddies from KSU, it was very interesting to see the differences between leadership styles in the U.S. and in Germany, which Deborah Steinborn could show so very clearly in her presentation and discussion. 

Nevertheless, how different our ways to lead are, or how we prefer to communicate, at the end of the day, we as a group of German Azubis are all aiming to finally meet our 

 “Super-hero” peer buddies in real life!

It is Wednesday Dudes!

It is already the third round of the program, and it starts cheerfully with a little quiz about Atlanta. Now we can show of our souvenirs from Georgia, which is the KSU baseball caps.

Screenshot Rapid Fire Questions

After the little energizer at the beginning, we talked about the past week and its successes. Promptly we got an introduction about the first topic, with the help of optical illusions, which we were supposed to interpret. In addition to that, we got the small task to draw a house, which each participant portrayed differently. I noticed quickly that each participant perceived the illusions differently and had a completely different perspective. And that’s exactly what it’s about – Changing Perspectives!

One of the pictures from the meeting. What do you see?

Every culture, every country has a different perception. Mostly we see only our own perspective and as the right one, which is not entirely correct.

To understand the change of perspective even better, we talked about the well-known TED interview “The danger of a single story” by the Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Adichie. She talked about people, who inspired her and even influenced her way of seeing things. People, who gave her a different perspective. Above all, she talked about African authors, who showed her that not everything follows one path.

“It saved me from having a single story of what books are. “

To complete the topic, we spoke in smaller groups about our own experiences with changing perspectives. I found it very interesting that every participant told a different story and that the question also contained personal traits.

It became exciting when we looked particularly at the differences between the American culture and the German one. It became clear how strongly the values ​​differ from each other and what impact this can have in interpersonal dealings. For example, Americans prefer to have a diplomatic, uncomplicated conversation, while in Germany people pay attention to directness and pragmatism. Other ethnic groups were also compared and had different aspects. I was able to learn that you should not only stay in your bubble, but also show empathy and understanding for things that do not seem familiar to you.

The second part of our topic change of perspective begins with a division into small groups. We are asked to think about whether we have already experienced situations in which we have realized a change of perspective or perhaps also did it by ourselves. What did we discover, did it influence us in a certain way and why was it important for our development. Here we again practiced the kind of listening we learned from the first meeting via Story Circles.

After that, we looked at the aspects of small talk between Germans and Americans. There are some differences. While Germans generally look for topics that interest both conversation partners, Americans are more likely to look for “safe” topics of conversation so as not to get into too much discussion. Germans are also more likely to talk objectively, even if this would be at the cost of the conversational climate. While Americans tend to focus on the conversational climate and interpersonal relationships.

When we looked at the cultural values of Germans and Americans, we realized that every aspect of it can be seen positively or negatively. It all depends on the perspective you have. For example, if you look at the German rationality, you see that numbers, data and facts are more important than emotions and intuition and this leads to a more professional result. On the opposite side, this can be seen as cold and distant. On the American side, for example, there is the famous “American Dream” in which everyone strives for wealth and money. The negative part of this can be that this thought is too materialistic and rooted in greed.

After a good exchange of our group, we moved on to our guest speaker. Unfortunately, our guest speaker had to cancel due to an emergency, but there is a recorded interview of him on the internet which we were allowed to use for our program. Our guest speaker is John Fluker, the President and CEO of Grenzebach, a German company in America. He is a very interesting person with a very unusual background. He’s an African-American who was born and raised in the south of Atlanta, he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and played basketball while studying. Now he’s the president and CEO of a German company in Atlanta and lives there as well. But what was much more fascinating was his way of speaking and his thoughts. He has a deep voice and a calm way of speaking, just what you would imagine for a leader to have. In the talk about how it must not have been easy for him, as an African-American, to study at a university with almost exclusively white Americans he talked about his perspective. Next to these difficulties, he clearly emphasized that he only had this opportunity because generations before him fought for their rights.

Screenshot from the Video “Steady Leadership in Challenging Times: John Fluker with Grenzebach” – YouTube

We want to end this blog post with a statement from John Fluker himself. John often uses this statement in the start of conversations on this topic and it shows how much the state, the country, society and the world has changed: „I am a black man who is the president and CEO of a German company located in the south

Let’s get started!

Friday, September 17: Today our virtual program “Trainees to the USA”, which we were all waiting for, has finally started.

The goal of the program is to learn about the culture, working environment and educational system of the USA within six weeks, to improve our English skills as well as to meet new people. In addition to the 19 trainees from Germany, our team consists of 10 American students  from Kennesaw State University, who are our “peer buddies”. The cool thing about the virtual program is that anyone, who has the internet connection, can participate, even if they are on vacation!

The first thing we did was get to know each other and express our expectations for the program, then we discussed our schedule and got some instructions on what the program expectations and outcomes should be. Our virtual trip takes place every week on Friday. We have six sessions where we are going to discuss highly interesting topics with incredible speakers from the U.S. What makes the concept even better is that we will learn more about each topic during the informal conversations with our peer buddies to get a broader perspective about how it is perceived thru the U.S. point of view. Cool, isn’t it?

After a fun energizer and a short break, we met our first speaker, Michael Theisen- Jones, Director Global Business Development of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Michael gave an astonishing talk about Atlanta and told us great facts about the city, no one of us knew before. Personally, I found it fascinating that  the company ICE, located in Atlanta, owns the NYC Stock Exchange. Did you know that a lot of your favorite movies and series, such as Avengers: Infinity War and Stranger Things were filmed in Atlanta? After the presentation we  peppered Michael with questions and he was so nice that he answered all of them. Michael was definitely  able to make Atlanta and Georgia even more attractive for me!

After the lecture we distributed the upcoming Todo’s and said goodbye for today. The first day was full of new experiences and adventures, but tomorrow brings us even more of them! 🙂

Saturday, September 18: Dancing to “Raisin Toast” on a Saturday afternoon, with strangers, in a Zoom-call? We can tick that off our list as of today!

The second session of the “Trainees to the USA” program took place today. After the impressive presentation by Michael Theisen-Jones, during the kick-off session, we were very excited about what we could expect today.

We started with a short review of the first day. Afterwards, Dr. Sabine Smith, a German Professor at Kennesaw State University, gave a presentation on the demographic situation of Atlanta in the USA. I was amazed at how diverse the state of Georgia is and how big the differences are in the cities and in the surrounding communities. From mountains to swamps. From Latino communities to Asian neighborhoods. The diversity within the state of  Georgia, among other things, highlights the focus of today’s session:

>Conversations Have Culture<

During the session, we compared the American and German ways of having a conversation. Among other things, we learned that Americans form bonds more like peaches, whereas Germans are more like coconuts☺ What does that mean? Let me explain: 

Americans first like to make small talk and are very open and rather talkative. A deep friendship is often difficult to build. This is very similar to the structure of a peach, which is soft on the outside and has a hard core on the inside. Germans are more like a coconut. Ever heard of the phrase “hard shell, soft  middle “? In German culture, it is common for us to be  more superficial with our new acquaintances at first. As soon as we get to know a person better, we show our soft side and, in many cases, then count friends as family.

The Story Circles introduced by UNESCO in 2020 are intended to simplify the peaceful coexistence of people. The idea is to listen to the other person and let them speak without reacting or judging. In German culture, it is often the case to interrupt one’s counterpart (even if unintentionally) to indicate agreement with the topic of conversation. Americans on the other hand, act similarly to Story Circles, for the most part.  

Also, Germans tend to be described as direct, honest and sometimes perceived as “rude”, while Americans are seen as indirect, pragmatic, and individualistic.

Overall, it was a very successful session. Knowing the differences between the American and German conversation culture, I now feel prepared to talk to the peer buddies next week☺

A journeys end

Let`s whoop it up!

Press play for instand happienes

Whose heart doesn’t spark with joy if one hears the words: “time to celebrate! “And right at the start of our final program session, we Azubis were greeted by the song “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang. Some of us were smiling, some of us were moving to the beat but all of us had nevertheless a great time. And you might already guess it, the todays meeting was all about achievement and celebration and undoubtedly the most fitting topic for the final session

As always, we started with sharing our thoughts about the last weeks topic, in this case “influence and influencer”, exchanged our newly gained insights and together reviewed our meetings with our peer buddies which sadly was officially the last one. But for most of us that isn’t completely true as it turns out we bonded together surprisingly well with our American peers and new friendships were born. Some even decided to send each other packages with regional goodies. Now if you don’t call that something to look forward to, then I don’t know what does!

As the session moved on, we stuck our heads together around the personal meaning of achievements and celebrations. We used the UNESCO Story Circle as our tool once again, brainstormed in breakout rooms our experiences with celebration and embarrassment at our workplaces or in private settings and how it might be different in the U.S. Back in the forum we picked up the discussion about our results and looked at the big facts, Sabine worked us through. We learned that Germans do celebrate similar as Americans but not as big and often as they do. And yet the biggest questions remain unanswered, why do people still sing “Happy Birthday” to one another if most of them just want to disappear out of embarrassment caused by the attention? No one will ever know…!

Next topic we dealt with was the poem of Amanda Gorman“The Hill We Climb” which she read at the inauguration of Joe Biden in January, 2021. At first it showed us an extraordinary way of celebrating a long-desired achievement, but as we dug deeper into the analysis of the poem we were faced with the concept of Aesthetic Force. This method was first mentioned by Frederic Douglass and its key idea is that emotions are more powerful than facts or numbers.

With this knowledge on our mind, we presented our prepared and self-written “elevator speeches” to each other, which summed up our experiences and the newly gained skills we acquired in the period of the virtual program. Afterwards we gave feedback using the “Sandwich Feedback Technique.” The goal was to keep us working on our speech, not to make it perfect, but to grow thru the task and hand in our personal best. There is always room for improvement and to exceed your abilities – that is a growth mindset.

And with all that, it was time for a break – and maybe for a kit-kat as well.

Special Guests

Last Friday our group was very excited about our two special guests! To be specific: Dr. Nina Lemmens and Mr. Brandon Loftus.

Dr. Lemmens is a very pleasant woman who is a member of the Executive Board of the Joachim Herz Foundation. She is sort of our boss in this program. She told us about working and traveling around the world and how she managed to stay and work in New York City. Even though she studied something completely different before her current line of work. She showed us the differences that influenced her during her work abroad. For example: Observing singing toddlers and their teacher in Central Park, who got way too many compliments for mediocre performances. Meanwhile in Germany employees get compliments very rarely. Some German bosses should adapt this kind of behaviour, what do you think?

Even the Azubis Team present at the seminar is very impressed with their boss. They`re right, she´s a “Power Woman!” Last, but not least, she had exciting news! We are definitely going to visit the U.S. It blew all of our minds!!! It was a relief for everyone, because of the COVID situation we couldn´t visit Georgia this year. We are so excited about our upcoming trip in Spring of 2022. But especially, to meet each other in person!

Our next speaker Brandon Loftus was honest and admitted: Zoom and other online formats are not his favorite setting, Mr. Loftus prefers to speak in front of a live audience. But for that he managed it very well. He´s the plant manager and head of ZF Gainesville, a German company. You could really see the pride for his company and it´s employees.

That´s giving him high marks. We were impressed how he managed the difficult COVID situation and how he managed to make the necessary tough choices to letting some staff go, not his favorite task but that makes him a brilliant businessman. He told us about his personal struggles and challenges which influenced his choices. To terminate employees was not easy. You could see that this experience mentally affected him. He used his best knowledge to make the best out of that situation. His character and optimism impressed all of us!

Georgia, see you soon!

Finally – on Saturday we passed the last session of this amazing, virtual AZUSA program, 6 amazing weeks. In the beginning Julia and Tobias joined us. They were part of “Azubis go USA” some years ago and travelled to the USA funded by the Joachim Herz Foundation. Back in Germany they are now participating in courses and studies. They are still active as “Azubi-Botschafter” and present the project to interested trainees. They encouraged us to us to also become “Botschafters” Ambassadors as well. They took time to answer our questions on this topic.

After that we started to discuss in our group and in smaller breakout rooms: we were looking back, remembering the sessions we passed during the last weeks. We thanked, praised and criticized in the meeting of all participants. These were not only questions considered in the program but also about our personal lives and our futures. Generally – what is pleasureable for us, what makes us exhausted? And what would be alternatives if our lifes would change completely? Have we thought about what to do and where to find alternatives? Have we thought about a backup plan for our lives? What do we take away from the courses? An important question which we discussed also in our “Elevator Speeches”. We wrote them before our last session and presented them live in front of the other participants. Exciting how different and divers such speeches could be! Lovely, how positive and warm the reactions of the listeners were.

And so began the end of our shared virtual time. Time to say Goodbye. The “End” – a screen of picture Zoom tiles with many smiling faces. Some of them also thoughtful or tired, some even had tears in their eyes. We really hope to see each other again, next time in real life. Everybody, please stay joyful and healthy! “We are keeping Georgia on our minds!”

We are done here! Buckle up, we’re comming to Georgia!

Welcome to the US!

Throughout this program and as students in the United States, we did not learn English. We did not increase any language skill or perfected our pronunciation in any way. Perhaps we as trainees ourselves learned about the learning of these skills. We helped students much like ourselves achieve new heights when it came to language and culture learning. We were put in a position that forced us to take a step back from the country we have grown up in and view it from another’s perspective. More importantly, from the perspectives of young adults that admire our culture, and us who admire theirs a great deal in return. This pivot in perspective allowed us as American university students to answer questions such as, “Why don’t you have a “Pfand” (State beverage container deposit) system there?”, and “How are the different dialects compared to North and South US?”, and even “What do Flaming Hot Cheetos taste like?”.

These, along with many more entertaining instances, are questions that as Americans we don’t often think about in great detail. But when you are encountered with a fantastic group of young adults that are on the edge of their seats for some information on unhealthy American food, your everyday life in a small American town in northern Atlanta just got a whole lot more interesting. As American peer buddies we were able to find a deeper appreciation for our hometowns that we have seemed to grow numb to. The houses here are different to our now friends in Germany; the mailboxes, the grocery stores, the restaurant etiquette, and even the process of making new friends.

With amazing guest speakers such as John Fluker, President and CEO of Grenzebach Corporation, Vanya Allen, a performance artist, singer, educator, and linguist, and many other admirable speakers who made the time to join us, this was truly an unforgettable experience. That being said, we cannot forget about the stars of the show, the Azubis themselves. With approximately 5,000 miles between us, one would think that we would only be able to find differences between us, but that was not the case. From sharing the frustration of having siblings who do not pick up after themselves, to laughing at the knowledge that we do not know how to change a tire, it was incredible to see how alike we are despite growing up in different countries and cultures.

Each week brought a new topic of conversation to our weekly chats. It was always fascinating to hear everyone’s opinions and at the end of the day, everyone learned something new. For example, their education system is set up different than ours here in America, and yet we have shared some of the same experiences. Whether it be the last day or last week of school, seniors in high school get the chance to “trash/prank” the school. They’ll toilet paper the halls and have balloons and confetti littering the hall floors, but it’s meant to be a final goodbye to the school we will graduate from. The Azubis mentioned that they have something similar to that as well. They call it “Abi-Streich”, which is essentially the same concept. They will sneak into their school at night and create mischief in much of the same way that we do here in our high schools. However, we also realized that while team spirit is a big factor of American high schools, it’s not much of a big deal amongst German schools. We realized this, when the topic of pep rallies was approached. It was quite interesting to see that they only knew of this concept through movies, but that they would very much so love to experience it in-person.

Alas six weeks have gone by in the blink of an eye, and it is quite a bittersweet feeling. It was truly a privilege and an honor to be a part of this road trip, and to have the opportunity to make new friends.

Finally, a large thank you to every Azubi that applied to this program, including our fellow students here in America. We all learned so much and have so much love for our friends in Germany!