FREEPORT — Although 3,000 miles between Germany and Maine, Valeska Hornschild-Bear bridges the cultural divide between the cultures. With German roots and an American approach, Hornschild-Bear offers a fresh perspective on learning a foreign language with cultural exploration in a class that she teaches in Freeport.

Hornschild-Bear is a native Berliner who found her way to Maine in search of the American college experience. From Berlin, she spent one month in New York City and soon experienced a sort of culture shock as she made her way north through rural Maine in what quickly became a very quiet car ride. Characteristic of her personality, Hornschild-Bear decided to take the plunge and spent one year at University of Maine in Orono, where she learned to love the openness of American culture and, at the same time, fell in love with an American.

She returned to Germany and they continued their long-distance relationship with letters, occasional phone calls and visits back and forth between Germany and Portland. Soon, they married and started a family in Germany, raising their two children to be bilingual, bicultural and bicontinental.

Hornschild-Bear most recently worked as a tour guide for the federal government in Berlin, where she educated groups of adults about the city’s political history. After a decade in Germany, Hornschild-Bear and her husband wanted their children to know the other side of their heritage and decided it was time for a change.

“There are deep cultural differences in who you are. I think in your deep soul you are not aware of how much you’re grounded somewhere. My husband is neither American nor German; I am neither German nor American,” Hornschild-Bear said.

Hornschild-Bear’s life is a fusion of cultural influences that translates nicely to her role as a foreign language instructor. Hornschild-Bear has been pleasantly surprised at the level of interest in German culture from people in Maine. She began teaching a Conversational German class in Freeport in 2017, which has grown in popularity and draws participants from as far as Harpswell, Durham and Yarmouth.

Her students vary in age— from 11 to 79—and background; each student has a different reason for participating in the class based on their own personal experiences. Some students studied German in college, some spent time abroad and some were stationed in Germany while in the military.

“It’s a wonderful way for everybody to exchange their experiences and their lives. It’s more about the exchanging of who you are, where you can feel comfortable, versus actively learning the language, which you can also do online,” she said.

As an educator, Hornshild-Bear places more value on the inter-human connection that occurs with the exchange of experiences. She focuses on exchanging her own knowledge and experiences with Germany, and encourages her students to do the same, while sharing ideas about the country and language. The class is enriching in the sense that everyone learns from each other and brings to class what they know and what they are curious about, so that every class is dynamic and never repetitive.

“This is what I can offer: not being a German teacher but being a German who is away from my home country, who is focusing from far away on what I want to tell people about it and what my personal emotions are about my country. This makes it authentic and different than any other class where you can learn German,” Hornshild-Bear said.

Based on the success of her class over the past year, Hornschild-Bear has launched a new endeavor: a guided tour of Berlin. A small group of adults will meet Hornschild-Bear in Berlin for a week of authentic experiences, including tours of historical sites, cultural events, museums, restaurants and more. She is eager to share her knowledge, emotions and experiences with Berlin after having grown up in West Berlin when it was surrounded by the Berlin Wall. She intends to truly show the sights as a native who experienced life during that part of history.

“It’s not just the language, it’s talking about life. The world is a bigger place. It’s about learning from each other. It makes it a better place. Being different doesn’t have to be so different,” she said.

For more information, email Hornschild-Bear at [email protected].

Kelli Park can be reached at [email protected].

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