Centre News

German Professor Ian Wilson leads first-ever summer abroad trip to Berlin


July 25, 2013 By Mariel Smith        
Centre College, Ian Wilson "Having to speak, understand and listen to German all the time,
even if it's only for two and a half weeks, will really allow my
students to make a big step forward with their language skills,"
says Assistant Professor of German Ian Wilson.

Centre College, Berlin, Holocaust Memorial The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, one of many monuments and
public spaces Wilson's class will visit and discuss.

Centre is famed both for its personalized education and its #1 in the nation study abroad program, and this summer, Associate Professor of German Ian Wilson is showcasing both of these strengths with his newest course, German Cultural Geography. The class runs July 23 through August 8 and is open to four students. Best of all, it will be held in Berlin, Hamburg, Lübeck and Quedlinburg, Germany.

"With the opening up of the summer to abroad trips, I'm able to offer a course to a small, specialized group of students with advanced German language skills and strong interest in German culture," says Wilson.

Students will be exposed to the full spectrum of German cities, from the large and bustling capital Berlin to the quieter walled medieval town of Quedlinburg. Students will focus on the geography, urban organization, transportation networks, commerce and daily life of each city as well as the ways in which each city's monuments, museums and architecture preserve the past.

Though this is a short summer trip, it is certainly not a vacation; Wilson's reading list is extensive, and he recommends that students do as much of the reading as possible before the trip. In addition, no English will be spoken during the class, and students are expected to use their German to fluently write papers, give presentations and navigate multiple German cities.

Wilson is looking forward to leading a walking tour through a section of Berlin just over a mile long that encompasses multiple historical and cultural periods.

"This walk is one of my favorite parts of any educational visit to Berlin," says Wilson. "It begins in an ultra-modern section of Berlin, one of the only parts of town that has skyscrapers. This area is Potsdamer Platz, a historically significant town square where a section of the Berlin Wall used to divide the city. Just beyond the square is a Holocaust memorial, followed by the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag, where the German parliament sits.

"Through the Gate is a street called Unter den Linden, which has existed in various forms for over 300 years," he adds. "This street's continuation passes the former location of the parliament of the Communist German Democratic Republic—where today a replica of the 14th through 18th-century City Palace is being built from scratch—before reaching the site of the first German settlement of Berlin from the 12th century."

Centre College, Ian Wilson From left to right: Daniel Rundberg ’15, Stephanie Lauderdale
'14, Patrick Haggerty ’15, Sarah Stracener ’15 and Dr. Ian
Wilson enjoy public art in Kurfürstendamm in Berlin.

Berlin is an especially fascinating place for Wilson because it has been so intensely destroyed and rebuilt in recent history, particularly with the bombings of World War II and the splitting of the city during the Cold War.

"Much of the city is either relatively recent or significantly rebuilt, even though many buildings and places seem older," Wilson explains. "As far as European cities go, Berlin isn't very old at all. This raises questions about how modern people make use of space, and if a historical space or group of people is no longer present, how that fact might be memorialized."

For Wilson, the unique subject matter of the class makes traveling to Germany a necessity.

"You can get a lot of important and interesting German content in the classroom; for instance, you don't have to be in Germany to discuss German literature," says Wilson. "But for this course, actually experiencing the spaces we're discussing will add incredibly to each student's understanding of them. In this case, a photo just isn't the same as having the ability to inhabit and move around within a certain space—to really understand it and compare one's own sense of it with a critic's interpretation."

This trip is also unique in its ability to offer an immersive German language experience to students. Though Wilson has taken students to German-speaking countries during CentreTerm, the typical mixture of diverse majors requires that any CentreTerm activities be understandable to English speakers. His new summer class, because it is comprised of only advanced German majors and minors, can allow for a much more deeply immersive experience.

"Having to speak, understand and listen to German all the time, even if it's only for two and a half weeks, will really allow my students to make a big step forward with their language skills," says Wilson. "This scale of immersion hasn't been possible during CentreTerm or even in Strasbourg semester trips."

Centre College, Ian Wilson Lauderdale in a Vienna cafe she visited while traveling with
Dr. Wilson during CentreTerm 2012.

One of the four students taking the course is Stephanie Lauderdale ’14, a German and international studies double major.

"The course is relevant to me for a number of reasons," she says. "First, I'm a German major. Additionally, since this course will also focus on politics and commerce in Germany, it ties nicely into my study of international politics.

"The most sentimental reason I'm taking this course is that I attended a German immersion elementary school and have been speaking German since I was five," she adds. "I've never been to Germany, but it's always been a lifelong dream to travel there."

This is not Lauderdale's first time traveling with Wilson; in January 2012 she took his CentreTerm course, which toured Vienna, Budapest and Prague. She feels her Centre experience has been especially helpful in preparing her for this summer's highly independent and immersive course.

"Centre stresses the importance of being exposed to different cultures and of immersing yourself in them as if they are your own," she explains. "It's also prepared me by teaching me how to study in the real world, not just inside of a classroom."

Above all, the trip is a big step forward for Lauderdale's career plans.

"I think this course will give me great insight as to how the government works abroad, preparing me for a career in international politics," she says. "I've always had an interest in working either in or with Germany, so getting to travel there and learn exactly how the country is run will be extremely helpful in my pursuit to live or work there."


For more information on Centre's nationally-ranked study abroad program, visit the Center for Global Citizenship.


For more information on Centre's German Studies program, click here.






Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, Ky. Centre hosted its second Vice Presidential Debate on 10.11.12, and remains the smallest college in the smallest town ever to host a general election debate. For more, click here.


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