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Building bridges to Germany

Jul 9, 2018
by Bobbie Stewart and Brian Thompson, '95

Dr. Tim Johnson, Craig and Audrey Thorn Distinguished Professor of Religion at Flagler, said the idea stemmed from his Fulbright Scholarship years ago in Dresden, Germany, when he began making connections with German scholars.

Flagler students in Germany for study abroad programOne thing led to another, and one day, during a Franciscan conference Johnson organized in St. Augustine, he met historian Dr. Helmut Flackenecker, from Julius-Maximilians University of Würzburg.

“We just developed a really great friendship, and said, ‘Where do we go with this?’” Johnson said. “I’ve been working continuously to solidify the program, and it’s been a very, very good program.”

To date, 16 students have taken advantage of the exchange, where they spend a semester or full year at the prestigious German university. They have the option of taking courses in History, Culture, Law, Literature, Art, Political Science, Economics, Business and Marketing. All students take a four-week, four-credit intensive German language course during their visit. Three Flagler professors have joined students since the partnership’s inception, including Associate Professor of History Dr. Wayne Riggs, Assistant Professor of History Steve Voguit and Associate Professor of History Dr. John Young.

Johnson and Flachenecker both attest to the importance of relationship-building as a cornerstone to the program’s success. Developing an international partnership takes time and a great deal of effort, but it is friendship and trust that continues to move the initiative along.

“Flagler is ideal for this because we’re already a small college,” Johnson said. “We understand small classrooms and building relationships with professors, so now we’re just trying to transfer that internationally.”

Riggs added that the close relationship with the university has allowed the partnership to grow organically, evolving as needs change and new ideas sprout. “The partnership is kind of an experiment,” he said. “It’s not just one discipline or one department. Many academic departments and offices have gotten involved to see how they can make it work. We’re kind of building it as we go. It’s a remarkable statement about the innovation within the institution itself and the people willing to work together, which is really phenomenal.”

The benefits for students and faculty have been evident: some students have gone on to pursue graduate degrees based on their study abroad experience, faculty members have learned new techniques and teaching methods and Flagler and the University of Würzburg, as institutional entities, continue to brainstorm ways to best deliver exceptional educational opportunities.

Johnson also noted that the partnership encourages greater cross-cultural understanding of the world. “This type of partnership makes the entire college experience more comprehensive, more cohesive and more well-rounded when students take international trips,” Johnson said. “It really opens people’s eyes and gives them a new way to understand information and the world.”

Flachenecker agreed. “The students from Flagler who came to Würzburg learned about cultural differences and had very positive experiences,” said the professor for the university’s Regional History-Franconian Region. “That has also had a positive effect on locals here (in Würzburg).”

According to Johnson, Riggs and Flachenecker, there’s no limit to the number and kind of educational experiences the partnership could produce. Riggs, for example, is currently working on a joint-research project with the university focused on the cross-cultural experiences between American soldiers and German locals in Würzburg after 1945.

“There’s a lot of potential to grow this partnership into a cultural exchange with lots of different opportunities,” Johnson said. “This could be a stand-out program that distinguishes Flagler from other schools.” 

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