By Eva Parish
Julia Howald and Sarah Lentz, two of the students involved
in this year's American Studies Diploma program at Smith College, come from
different cities in Germany (Berlin and Hamburg, respectively), but both shared similar
viewpoints in a discussion on the differences between the American and German educational
and political systems.
The initial difference that struck both about college
in America was the housing system. German universities do not have dormitories; as
Lentz said, "Students live all over the city but not on campus."
"I think for first-year students [the dormitory
system] is really good," said Howald, "because they come here from wherever
and don't have to look for an apartment, and don't have to cook their
own food, and everything." In addition to that benefit, she said, "I
think you can really focus on studying here, because you're living on campus."
In the classroom, Lentz said, "It's always
discussion." In Germany classes are distinguished between lectures ("a
huge group of students just listening to the professor") and seminars, which
are focused on work and presentations that the students do. Here, she said, "it
might be called a lecture... but my classes are like seminars."
Howald noted the difference between the workload here
and in Germany. "In Germany we often have big exams at the end of the semester,
but during the semester you don't really have to do anything, especially if
it's a lecture and you just sit there and listen," she said. "Here
they build up your knowledge."
Both students agreed that American politics is a subject
of interest in Germany. Howald said, "I think the whole Bush era was just viewed
as a big mistake by everyone, that is clear."
Lentz said, in reference to the recent financial crisis,
that Germans want Senator Barack Obama to be president, and Howald agreed that the
candidate has much support in Germany. "He's kind of celebrated as a
hero in some ways, going to save the United States," she said. "Obama
held a speech in Berlin a couple months ago... and that was a very big event
and many people went there and watched his speech."
As for Senator John McCain, Howald said that he is
regarded as a moderate Republican, but that "the nomination of Sarah Palin
was not well received in Germany."
The German political system, as Howald and Lentz explained,
is different from the American one in that there are four main parties, rather than
two, and that one votes for the party as a whole in an election, rather than for
a specific candidate for chancellor. Both systems, though, hold major elections every
One aspect of American politics that Howald said she
finds strange is "how the church is related to politics... How certain
people vote Republican because they belong to a certain church. In Germany... it's
not that way."