Dr. Winkel Hosts First Virtual Cultural Exchange Event

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Issue 13, Volume 111

By Kai Caothien, Isabella Jia 

For music teacher Dr. Gregor Winkel, hosting a cultural exchange event for his band students has always been a dream. Remote learning presented an opportunity for him to do so. “I almost always wanted to do something like this, but it was always obstructed by physical practicalities. Usually, when you have an exchange, the guest students stay with the host family, but that is something difficult to do in New York City,” Dr. Winkel said. “Since I’m teaching virtually, soon this came to the extent of my vision and I thought maybe it would be an option.”

Dr. Winkel’s fourth period concert band students participated in a cultural exchange event with students from Abtei-Gymnasium Brauweiler (AGB), a high school located in Pulheim, Germany, on March 16. The event started off with guest speakers Principal Seung Yu, German Consul of German Embassy in NYC Herr David Gill, and Direktor (principal) of AGB Martin Sina, who gave introductory speeches to students. Stuyvesant students then performed a musical piece to welcome AGB students, followed by videos created by students from the respective schools. These videos featured different school environments, foods, and activities from German and American cultures. Students had the opportunity to converse after each video. The end was reserved for sharing contact information.

Winkel chose to collaborate with AGB because of his personal connections to the school. “I was thinking of several connections I have to Germany. The daughter of my oldest brother went to [AGB] and graduated from there,” Winkel said.

The event came about when Dr. Winkel’s students showed an interest in his German ethnicity. “They started off asking me in class where I’m from and I started showing them in Google Earth where I’m from. After I did that, I asked students if they wanted to do the same, so we started to give each other tours of places we were from, such as Egypt, Italy, and several other countries,” Dr. Winkel said. “It was very interesting. They always talked about where they are from, their hometowns, what their favorite foods are, favorite music, etc.”

This activity engaged students and ultimately developed into a plan for a cultural exchange event. “I thought maybe we could take it up a step further and ask [students] if we could do [a] cultural exchange through Zoom. There was a school up in Germany and they were all in for it. We had four students: [senior] Jenny Chen, [sophomore] Emily Lu, [sophomore] Eduardo Lozano, and [senior] Filip Markovinovic make wonderful videos, [while] other students collected questions they wanted to ask,” Winkel said. These videos were presented by AGB students and Stuyvesant students to showcase cultural and lifestyle differences between New York City and Germany.

Students wanted to highlight New York through a non-stereotypical lens. “Through my video, I wanted to convey that there were many different aspects of New York besides the bustling city and towering skyscrapers,” Lu said in an e-mail interview.

Chen created a video of her neighborhood, Woodside, Queens, and showcased her German speaking skills. “Unlike the other videos, mine was in German. I initially took on this project because I thought it was a great opportunity for me to practice my German speaking skills, having taken German for the past four years,” Chen said in an e-mail interview.

A challenge students encountered in the video-making process, however, was conveying humor properly. “Honestly, humor doesn't translate well over languages or culture, so I was a little worried over making certain jokes and references in my narration," Lu said.

However, many AGB students responded positively. “I also appreciate the humor that was clearly noticeable and that all videos showed,” senior and AGB student Carolin Elena Kaminski said in an e-mail interview.

Other students also found the event exciting and informational. “I was surprised because it looked different from what I initially expected and I found the names [of locations] pretty interesting. Specifically, I did not know that they called the cafeteria a ‘canteen,’” freshman Sun Min Choo said in an e-mail interview.

Not only did students present videos showcasing everyday life, but they also shared different music pieces. AGB students played a pop song, while Stuyvesant students presented classical pieces. “It was really disparate from the music we created. Honestly, I was expecting a recording of them just playing a really classical piece, but they actually sort of recreated a really popular song and I was amazed,” Choo said.

Winkel decided for his band students to play the song “Mer losse d’r Dom in Kölle” as a way to welcome the AGB students. “We created a little piece that I knew and usually played in a carnival in Germany,” Winkel said. “It was a way to welcome and comfort them.”

Students felt the cultural exchange event was a positive change of pace from regular scheduled online classes. “I love how Dr. Winkel arranged this and took his time to do something fun for us [...] I want to appreciate that, especially since online school can be very boring,” sophomore Cassandra Fenwick said.

Students used the end of the event to exchange contact information with each other. “Afterwards, I even chatted to students via Instagram, so I feel like our first meeting was a success already,” Kaminski said.

This reflects Winkel’s goals to engage students in different cultures. “The main goal was to make the students interested in each other. I remember that very well when I came to the United States 20 years ago. I found almost everything interesting, when I went to the doctor’s office, the supermarket—everything was different,” Winkel said. “And that is what I wanted [students] to become interested in and connect with each other.”

Despite the amount of engagement, many students wished for the exchange to be longer and more personal. “I wish there was a bit more time to talk to the students in something like breakout rooms because 55 minutes wasn't really enough to get to know them,” Lu said.

Winkel was aware of this when planning the event and made accommodations accordingly to allocate the timing better. “I wanted to make sure that I do not suffocate any student conversations [...] I was worried the videos could do that,” he said. “But, I think everything actually worked out. I gave some time in the end when they could communicate with each other.”

With this in mind, Winkel has possible improvements for potential future events. “One change would be to extend the time or set it up for at least two meetings to give it more time [and] work on the group sizes maybe,” he said.

Overall, Winkel felt satisfied with the event’s success and hinted at a possibility for a similar event in the future. “I really enjoyed it. I really loved it and I’m glad that students became acquainted and were interested in contacting each other and exchanging e-mails and contacts. If I were to do it again, of course, I would,” he said.

Chen added, “The cultural exchange honestly came out of nowhere but I really liked it,” she said.