German and French programs expand on campus, abroad


After Professor Harald Becker’s death, St. Edward’s University is working to continue the German program he started. 

For the time being, Professor David Hunlich and Professor Anke Sanders have been hired as immediate substitutes. Both are from Germany, are native German speakers and teach German language classes at St. Edward’s.

“The passing of Harald Becker is a great loss because he has a legacy at this university of over 20 years,” Hunlich said. “He basically built this program, so for us the struggle is to keep his legacy going and to keep up the good work that he did.”

Upper-level German classes are not currently offered, but in hopes of keeping the German program active and growing, Professor Kerstin Somerholter is working to expand the program at St. Edward’s and abroad. 

“Although I created the French minor and major, I feel that my calling is to make sure that German is well taken care of, and I will guarantee that,” Somerholter said.

Although currently on sabbatical, Somerholter has been holding informal German speaking groups for the St. Edward’s community. She thinks these groups and other resources will help keep people interested in the language. To increase that interest, Somerholter hopes to create more German classes.

She has also been doing research to execute her plan to expand the study abroad program for German students. 

The final goal is to have a Maymester set up by 2014 that allows students to study in Germany for the month of May and to offer the opportunity for students to stay the rest of the summer or even throughout the fall semester. Somerholter believes getting more people involved in studying abroad will help increase interest in German and other languages.

“Language is really an investment and if you just take one year of it, you are going to forget it,” Somerholter said. “If you have already invested one year of your time, keep going. It is a lifelong skill… not just to get a grade, but to communicate with people.”

Somerholter worked with the French program for seven years. She created the minor two years ago and proposed a French major to the board, which was accepted and is offered this year for the first time at St. Edward’s. 

After Becker’s death, Somerholter took charge of the German program. The French program is currently run by Professor Philippe Seminet.

“As the go-to person in French, it is certainly in my interest to grow and expand the program. However, honestly it is not my desire to turn people into French majors,” Seminet said. “What I do see my role as is a facilitator, as someone who can open doors and give students an opportunity to peer in and see what is there.”

Both Seminet and Somerholter are passionate about getting students to travel, not only to gain interest in their subjects, but for the students to gain cultural experience as well. 

“I think study abroad changes you fundamentally. I have talked to so many people who have gone to one country or another and have discovered an inner self that they did not know they had,” Seminet said. “And they come back really passionate about particular issues or about the culture they were in. So for me it is really about awakening that sense of self and that desire to learn about other cultures.”

Seminet hopes to change the French study abroad program by implementing a host family system. He believes this is much more beneficial for students because they are able to better assimilate into the culture and way of life than they could living in a dorm surrounded by other students from the United States.

Besides studying abroad, the French program offers alternatives to traditional textbook learning to help students interact with the language and culture. Many extracurricular activities including the French club and on-campus French film showings are also available for interested students.

The Angers study abroad program is also one of the most popular study abroad opportunities among students.

“Students hopefully seize the opportunity to study abroad because it makes such a tremendous difference in the acquisition, not only of language skills, but also to really assimilate the culture and the thinking of the people, their traditions,” Seminet said.