From Germany to the JC


Abraham Fuentes

SRJC international student Juliane Riegel notices Americans stand further from each other and apologize often.

Edgar Soria Garcia and Abraham Fuentes

International students come from all over the world to further their education at Santa Rosa Junior College, but the learning curve isn’t limited to the classroom; customs and culture vary greatly between countries.

Juliane Riegel, 23, from Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany, is part of the SRJC International Student Program. Before landing in Santa Rosa, Riegel discovered her passion as an educator while teaching English as a second language in Vietnam and realized that she needed a teaching degree.

“It was really nerve-wracking for me. In the Vietnam ESL market, nationality was important,” Reigel said.  As a German teaching English, jobs were limited in Vietnam, but pretending to be American gave her more work opportunities. “Many job requirements would say only Americans, Australia or South Africa. I would say I was half American to get the job.”

Riegel constantly apologized for her non-native English, but knew she had the skills to teach. “I don’t see why you need to a be native speaker to teach it.”

Riegel met her boyfriend Chris while in Vietnam. She followed him to California a year ago. She did not want to stop learning so she enrolled in SRJC’s Child Development program on her way to a teaching credential.

During her first year she noticed differences between German and American culture. The first differences were in social settings and interactions. “People say ‘Hi, how are you?’ but it’s like they don’t actually care,” she said, laughing.

But she appreciates those who demonstrate genuine concern for her well being.

She noted Americans stand further away from each other and often apologize for little things.  “People have more sense of privacy and anonymity in the U.S.,” Riegel said.

The Santa Rosa climate feels dry to her, and she has a newfound appreciation for rain. She also misses what she calls “actual mountains”; she said the local ones are more like hills.

The wildlife diversity in California has been a change for her. In the German Alps dangerous animals such as bears have been killed during the last decades. In California people can see wild animals in their natural habitat. “It really puts you in your place.”

One thing she would bring from Germany to the U.S. would be the multiple festivals that celebrate town saints. “We had different saints for different things. We would have parades where horses were blessed and so many other things,” she said.

Riegel would also prefer Americans take off their shoes before entering her home. “You’re stepping on gum on the floor and gross stuff. I don’t want that inside,” she said, laughing.

Looking to the future Riegel said, “I never want to settle in like one place. I want to travel for the rest of my life; I want my life to be easily packed into a backpack and keep traveling.”

Riegel plans to travel abroad, continuing her education wherever she goes, so she can teach at any school in the world.