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Q&A with Professor Uwe Zagratzki

The Department of English has had the privilege of hosting a professor from Germany during the spring semester. Joined by his wife Steffi, six-year-old son Angus, and three-year-old daughter Fiona, Professor Uwe Zagratzki arrived in Carrollton in January as part of West Georgia's exchange program with Carl von Ossietzky Universitat in Oldenburg, Germany. He is teaching three courses during his stay here-Scottish Literature, British Literature, and Travel Writing. I recently talked with Professor Zagratzki to learn more about him and what his experience at West Georgia has been like so far.

How did you decide to start teaching?

Professor Zagratzki: I think I was particularly inspired by a teacher from high school I sort of became friendly with. He stimulated me into teaching at the high school. So I was in a way bound to become a high-school teacher. Once I was at the University of Osnabrueck, however, there was another sort of influence. One of the instructors came to see me one day and asked if I would be interested in writing a PhD thesis on a very particular topic of Scottish Literature. I considered this and after a while I agreed and he put me on a different track.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?

Professor Zagratzki: Being a teacher and at the same time being a student and the vivid lively interchange between me and the students. I love to do research but I really want to practice my ideas with others and try them out with others just to get the response-How far can I go? How wrong am I? Does it make sense? How do they respond to it? I find this kind of interchange very interesting in teaching.

Why did you decide to come teach here at West Georgia for the semester?

Professor Zagratzki: First, I think that thanks go to Dean Richard Miller. Also, I wanted to support this valuable exchange program and gain a better understanding of the southern culture.

What did your family think of your decision to teach here for a semester?

Professor Zagratzki: It took me quite a while to persuade them, in particular, because we had just arrived from Ottawa, Canada, last year at the beginning of October. It was only within a very short time that we got prepared for the States. It was not the country. It was the very short preparation time. The kids were quite open, quite concerned, particularly Angus. We took him out of kindergarten. He just realized there are many more languages other than German. He had to submit himself to this encounter. He has started picking up English by listening and he and Fiona have started speaking English occasionally. It's not really coherent phrases but bits and pieces. My wife has been practicing her English, but we both realize that there may be better places to learn English for a German once you take into consideration the strong, southern accent. It's really hard to come by sometimes, particularly for a learner. For me and Steffi it was quite hard to come by.

How have you and your family spent your time here?

Professor Zagratzki: We went to Zoo Atlanta. We've spent time with friends from the university. We've been dining out with our neighbors. So I think we're quite busy socializing. We're also planning on going to the House of Blues in Atlanta.

What are the biggest differences that you've noticed in Germany and the US?

Professor Zagratzki: One of the most visible for me and Steffi is the car-centered culture here. I just bought a used car and it's the first in my life. I've never had a car and I don't need a car back home. Of course, we have many cars back home but you can survive without one. I have two bikes . . . or I walk. If it's long-distance, we take a train. Once you say this is a car-centered culture, you realize that cars kill culture, that is, street culture. There are no pedestrians walking. People do not meet in the street to talk to each other. There are no squares populated with people sitting in cafes, looking around, getting into communication with each other. Everything is sort of sacrificed to the needs of the car. This is one of the major points you start writing home about . . . and this is what we did.

What do you think of West Georgia?

Professor Zagratzki: I was amazed, struck by the friendliness of the people. I received an open, warm-hearted welcome. The department, colleagues, all of you working here really made it easy for me to settle in properly within a very short time.

Are there any differences between the students here and those in Germany?

Professor Zagratzki: I was trying to categorize them and I found that there are similar types of students here as well as in Germany. They do not differ very much. You have ambitious, committed students. You have less committed students. You have students sitting by, obviously interested in what you are saying, students on the verge of sleeping off. I think all these types you will find in Germany. There is no great difference. The types are quite similar.

What would you tell your German students and colleagues about your experience here?

Professor Zagratzki: First of all, that they should come here and enjoy the atmosphere, the academic climate at the university. I would like them to be more willing to leave their university and come here. I really would like to give them a boost to be an invigorating, reinforcing agent for this exchange program. I will tell them to come here to West Georgia, in particular, because this is of comparable size to the University of Oldenburg and you will not go under like you would at a massive university. I think you are guaranteed to be identified as an individual at West Georgia. I would also tell them about the system of grading. The students are put under a constant grading pressure, so to speak. They are constantly graded.

Are they not graded in Germany?

Professor Zagratzki: They are but only at the end of the term, once they have turned in their written essays or manuscripts. The focus is more on writing so they are supposed to turn in papers at the length of 15 to 28 pages at the end of the term. So they take a special topic and write about it. This is a marked difference between our two systems. Another is here students have to pay for their courses. There is only an enrollment fee in Germany. I would also tell them that Carrollton students are exposed to many different subcultures. They run into people from different races, different social groups, and I consider this to be a privilege, an advantage, which might be beneficial for everybody to consider how good it would be for our own culture.

Would you like to add anything else?

Professor Zagratzki: Thanks to all of you--faculty, staff, English Department--for making this such an extraordinary experience. Yes, just thank you…I hope that these university exchanges can contribute to a better global understanding.

--Susan R. Rooks

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Last updated April 17, 2004