Vienna: Experiences teaching a language-course

Vienna: Experiences teaching a language-course

Barbara Coudenhove-Kalergi, a well-known German journalist, writes about her experiences following a year of teaching German to headscarf-wearing women in Vienna. Coudenhove-Kalergi recounts numerous anecdotes, some humorous, some wistful, as she and her Muslim students gradually get to know one another better thanks to a program called "Mama's learning German."

Though originally intended to be a language course, Coudenhove-Kalergi finds herself explaining the Christian origins of Christmas and taking her students, baby strollers and all, on a field trip to the famous St. Stephen's Cathedral. While the children light candles and place them on an alter, she discovers that her Muslim students (whether from Bangladesh, Tunisia or Turkey) have no problems with Christianity – it's rather the general atmosphere of 'godlessness' in Austrian society which renders them uneasy.

Coudenhove-Kalergi acknowledges the reality of their "parallel society," though shows herself to be rather sympathetic. For these women, most of whom arrived in the country as immigrant brides following a very brief courtship in their home countries, their lives consist of their homes, the park, the supermarket and the mosque. In general, there are few opportunities for them to come into contact with local Austrians.

In response to this, one of her colleagues set up a "Mama CafĂ©," held once a month and open to students, teachers, and outside guests (as long as female). Here Coudenhove-Kalergi is shocked as she sees Hollywood-style wedding pictures from her Muslim students and hears how all the women had the right to refuse their suitors – one Egyptian woman having turned down two men before accepting the third.



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