A look into our past, present and future
Some of our Victorian scholarship recipients invariably study German at Melbourne University. Here they are bound to encounter a former Stipi and the subject of this month's edition, Dr Heather Benbow. Heather is also a member of our SAGSE Committee. She is pictured (centre) whilst on exchange in Germany nearly 30 years ago, with fellow Victorian Stipis Rob Phair and Susan Powell.
Year of exchange: 1990/91
School: Hamilton High School
Town / city of exchange in Germany: Bayreuth
A memory / anecdote from your exchange:
Experiencing German Christmas and temperatures well below freezing on a daily basis was quite eye-opening. I was quite astonished to see that Germans get out in all weather and enjoy the cold season, be it carolling in the forest, wandering around freezing Christmas markets, ice-skating on frozen lakes or taking Wanderungen across icy fields.
I was blessed with a family who understood I needed to be immersed in German, even though my host sister and host mother spoke excellent English. Because my exchange took place in the pre-internet era and telephony was very expensive, I completely disconnected from home and was truly immersed in the experience. It was not easy, but I learned an incredible amount of German and really felt at home by the time I had to leave. When I visited my host family some years later I was welcomed back like a member of the family and it has been the same ever since!
Studies on return from exchange:
Because my German was very good I thought I wouldn't need to study it. I started Science/Law instead and then only took up German when I switched to an Arts degree in second year. I discovered that doing German at university was as much about the culture as the language. I went on to do Honours in German and English. I loved reading German literature and went on to do my PhD in eighteenth-century German literature and culture.
Career path since then:
After a stint as a journal editor, I secured the dream job as a lecturer in German Studies at the University of Melbourne. Having been told that academic jobs in German were incredibly rare, I was in the right place at the right time and I feel very blessed to be able to engage with German culture every day and to share my love of German with talented students, including very many returned GASSies!
What are you doing now?
Over the past few years I have been the coordinator of German Studies at the University of Melbourne and this has enabled me to engage with great external partners such as the Goethe Institut, SBS, schools and the Henkell Brothers. My proudest achievement as coordinator is the initiation of a German Student Theatre project that has seen our students stage two really wonderful original performances in German. It is so rewarding to see the talent of our students in action and to experience their commitment to creativity up close.
How the SAGSE exchange experience influenced your life's journey:
My work is in German Studies research and teaching. My partner is German and we are raising our two children bilingually. The exchange has not only impacted on my life but was really a turning point both personally and professionally. I have been privileged in recent years to serve on the SAGSE committee, and we hear again and again from former students how the exchange is "life changing". In my case that is certainly true!