Germanic and Slavic Studies Department Newsletter

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Table of Contents

  1. Greetings from the Chair
  2. Introducing FULT (Fundamentals of University Language Teaching)
  3. CI 100: Cultural Identities Today
  4. CoGS (The Council of Graduates in Germanic & Slavic Studies)
  5. Career Booster Day and Alexandre Trudeau Keynote
  6. Alumni Interview

Greetings from the Chair

Department Chair Michael Boehringer

Dear Friends of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies.

These are trying times for all of us who are sequestering in their homes, keeping distance from everyone. Although the University of Waterloo buildings are closed, we are working from our home offices, doing our best to keep things rolling along.  And we thought, you might enjoy a few updates on the Department, guaranteed Covid-free, so here is our brand-spanking new newsletter. We report on recent departmental activities and events, including GSS’s new graduate students society, its new undergraduate program in Cultural Identities, GSS’s participation in the University of Waterloo’s international education week and the special guest speaker, Alexandre Trudeau. You’ll also learn about the career paths our alumni have embarked on, sometimes to their own surprise. 

GSS looks back with pride on its accomplishments during the second decade of this millennium. In 2011 GSS established a joint Master’s program in Intercultural German Studies with the Universität Mannheim. GSS has successfully supported students in achieving Cotutelle de thése dual PhD program. GSS faculty have broadened their teaching activities and established a minor in Cultural Identities in cooperation with the Department of Latin & American Studies (see the feature in this issue).  

We do face challenges as societal values shift away from foreign languages and the humanities in general.  But we are confident that our teaching and research foci on multilingualism and transculturality equip our students with the critical tools to reflect on current discourses. And we continue to rely on our strengths: innovative programming, academic integrity, a fantastic group of graduate students and colleagues, and, of course, our alumni. Keep in touch, we'd love to hear from you!

Michael Boehringer   

Department Chair and Associate Professor

GSS’s CULT program now has a sibling – Introducing FULT!

Author: Nadja Schuhmacher

In 2019, the Department of Germanic & Slavic Studies (GSS) launched a new program expanding the CULT program (Certificates in Language Teaching). The Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) and the GSS  have been jointly offering the CULT program successfully since 2012 and decided that now is an opportune time to offer a program not only for doctoral students in language but also for any graduate students who are interested in the basics of teaching courses in Languages. Like CULT, FULT (Fundamentals of Language Teaching) is tailored to language instruction and is open to all actively enrolled Waterloo Master students in any language program (the visiting instructor supported by the Pädagogische Austauschdienst (PAD) can also enroll). FULT program can be finished in two terms, that’s why it is also an option for international grad students to broaden their view on language teaching in a shorter amount of time.

The FULT Certificate requires students to to take part in six teaching workshops which are directed by Dr. Schmenk and various guest instructors, to conduct three microteaching sessions, to deliver mini lessons to peers, and to receive feedback on teaching. The workshops include instruction in designing original lesson plans and practices that support students in learning to teach language efficiently. If the student completes the FULT Certificate, they receive a Certificate of Completion issued by the UWaterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) and a milestone on their university transcript. This Certificate is highly recommended to every student who plans to work as a Teaching Assistant (TA) or to continue with doctoral studies.  For other students, it provides a great opportunity to reflect on different teaching styles and to understand better techniques for teaching and learning languages.

If you are interested in registering for FULT or CULT, contact Dr. Barbara Schmenk in the Department of Germanic & Slavic Studies. Dr. Schmenk and Dr. Svitlana Taraban-Gordon from the Centre for Teaching Excellence are the key contacts for more information about CULT and FULT. Find additional information on FULT on the Centre for Teaching Excellence page.

CI 100: Cultural Identities Today

Authors: Grit Liebscher and Erica Swyers

The Department of Germanic & Slavic Studies (GSS) is excited to announce Cultural Identities (CI), its newest undergraduate program, adding to programs and courses in German language, applied linguistics, literature, cultural and visual studies, and Croatian, Dutch, and Russian. Currently offered as a minor (8 courses), CI is aimed at students interested in exploring cultural perspectives, their own engagement with languages, and the intersections of culture, language and representation. More information about the CI Minor and CI courses can be found on the CI website.

One of the core courses in the CI Minor is CI 100: Cultural Identities Today. This course introduces students to topics related to culture and cultural identities. The course focuses on  representations of culture and identity in language and in the media. Students learn about fundamental concepts of culture and identity and develop the skills to understand, analyze, and interpret the role that culture plays today in Canada and around the world. CI 100 treats topics such as nationalism, gender, stereotypes, cultural appropriation, and the connection between language and culture.

In the Fall term of 2019, CI 100 was taught by Prof. Barbara Schmenk and Ph.D. student Erica Swyers from the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies. It is followed by CI 200: Transcultural Studies, which is being taught this Winter term 2020 by Prof. Andrea Speltz.

This program is a response to academic and social trends towards interdisciplinarity and transculturality. Students develop an appreciation of how cultural identities inform their place in the world. Its goals include to instill students with transcultural competence, i.e. the ability to communicate across cultural boundaries, and to cultivate a sensitivity for other perspectives and ideas. The courses address some of the world’s most pressing issues: violence, migration, and discrimination or persecution based on ethnic, racial and national identities.

Announcing The Council of Graduates in Germanic & Slavic StudiesLogo of CoGS

Author: Erica Swyers

The graduate students in the Department of Germanic & Slavic Studies are happy to announce the launch of their new graduate society, The Council of Graduates in Germanic & Slavic Studies (CoGS)! As of the Fall term 2019, the Council is recognized as an official University of Waterloo society. This stamp of approval means that a representative from CoGS participates in the Graduate Student Association’s council meetings giving GSS graduate students more say in graduate affairs on campus.

Society members have elected an executive team for 2019-20: Erica Swyers (President), Samuel Schirm (Vice President), Kyle Massia (Treasurer), Sara Marsh (GSA Representative), Kira Bühl (IcGS Representative), Anna Rohmann (IcGS Representative). The executive team organizes events, represents graduate students at GSA council and departmental faculty meetings, and fosters community among and support for GSS graduate students. The representatives of the Intercultural German Studies MA program (IcGS)) offer support to IcGS students as they transition between the University of Waterloo and our partner, Universität Mannheim.

On December 13, 2019, CoGS members gathered for their first event: a going-away party for the outgoing IcGS and exchange students. After meeting at the restaurant, Abe Erb, in Kitchener, the group headed to the Auditorium and cheered on the Kitchener Rangers as they defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs. To welcome incoming IcGS students at the beginning of the Winter term, the council hosted a party and an information session. CoGS membership is open to students, faculty, and alumni. If you are interested in joining CoGS, have ideas for future events, or want to collaborate, feel free to get in touch any time at The graduate students in CoGS look forward to more exciting activities in 2020!

Career Booster Day and Alexandre Trudeau KeynoteAlexandre Trudeau with students after the presentation

Author: Mareike Wagner

On November 21 2019, during the International Education Week at the University of Waterloo, GSS hosted a Career Booster Day for local high school and university students. Together with the Goethe-Institute Toronto, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Waterloo Centre for German Studies (WCGS) and the University’s French and Spanish & Latin American Studies departments, GSS planned a day with engaging language workshops in German, French and Spanish and fun activities such as a wheel of fortune game that tested students’ knowledge of Germany. Six high school classes from the Waterloo and GTA areas attended to learn about the possibilities that arise from studying a new language and from having a multilingual perspective. During the workshops, students learned new words with UWaterloo teachers,  tested their own language abilities, and reflected on the importance of multilingualism. The students were eager to learn, even though some of the activities were challenging. The highlight of the day was the keynote presentation by Alexandre Trudeau, which was followed by a panel discussion about multilingualism and career opportunities with invited professionals, alumni, and students.

Alexandre Trudeau reflected on the ways that knowing more than one language has enriched his life, and explored his belief that all students should have diverse opportunities for language learning and study abroad. He argued that we live, not in just one world, but in many, which makes multilingualism important. By linking his talk to his childhood experiences, such as a diplomatic trip in a helicopter with his father, Mr. Trudeau made it easy to follow his thoughts on languages and cultures. He understands learning a new language as a new awakening of the self, because the voice sounds different when speaking different languages, and because we can learn more about ourselves and become a new person when we open up to new languages. In Trudeau’s words, it is not necessary to always “go all the way”; it is sometimes enough to just “flirt” with a language, especially when it comes to personal growth, life experiences, and professional opportunities.

In the ensuing discussion, the panelists discussed how language and international experience has helped their careers and argued for the importance of overcoming language barriers. People take for granted that they can communicate with each other but being in a situation where verbal communication is difficult or impossible  shows us that speaking different languages broadens horizons. The panelists answered questions from the audience and gave helpful tips to students, for example: in order to learn a new language, it is best to spend some time in the country where the language is spoken and that students need not be afraid to make mistakes.

The Career Booster Day was a huge success, as is summarized by Lianne Chumley, a teacher at the Grand River Collegiate Institute: “The students really enjoyed the language activities. It was great for them to be at the university and to get a taste of what it is like […] and to realize what an amazing gift having multiple languages is”.

Alumni Interview: Bjanka Pokorny and Silke Reineke

Author: Nadja Schuhmacher

Bjanka Pokorny and Silke Reineke completed the MA program in German in 2009, and afterwards have pursued different professional paths. Despite being an ocean apart, they remain friends and seek out opportunities to meet and catch up.  We spoke with Silke Reineke (at the right in the picture), who works in Germany at the IDS (Leibniz-Institut für Deutsche Sprache) in Mannheim and Bjanka Pokorny (at the left in the picture), who is employed by a software company in Waterloo.Alumni Bjanka Pokorny and Silke Reineke

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in German Studies and Media & Communication Studies, Silke Reineke started her career in Mannheim. She had already planned on enrolling in a master’s program outside of Germany to live abroad for a while and to improve her English skills. She decided to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Waterloo because of the strong relationship between the University of Mannheim and UWaterloo, and because of the diversity of the program. 

Bjanka Pokorny studied at the University of Waterloo, pursuing a joint degree in Psychology and German. After completing her BA, she became interested in the field of applied linguistics and was determined to pursue a career in academia.

For both women the future turned out differently than they had expected. Today, Silke works in academia; she is a research assistant as a member of the Institute for German language and works in the field of linguistics known as conversational analysis. She has finished her doctoral degree in Mannheim, relying on the network and contacts she built over the course of her studies to achieve this goal.  “I did not plan to pursue an academic career when I first started my studies. But during the year spent in Waterloo my interest in Linguistics research grew, and I decided I wanted to pursue a PhD. Fortunately, I had contacts in Mannheim who helped me land a job at the IDS where I am in today.”

Bjanka never anticipated being employed in a software development firm. When she started her studies, she did not believe that she was qualified for this line of work. But that has changed. “My most valuable asset at work is the skill to analyse and synthesize large amounts of data and present the findings in easily understandable language. My job is to explain complex technical concepts and functionalities to everyday users, which is exactly what I practiced during my studies at UWaterloo.”  Bjanka believes that education should prepare you for life and not just for your professional working life.

What did their studies in GSS teach them? For Silke and Bjanka, the most important thing they learned was to be accountable to others and to be flexible and versatile thinkers. Their advice to current students is to take any chance offered by the department to learn something new because  students in the Faculty of Arts can trust that they will learn a lot while studying, not just “hard skills” but also soft ones like time management and autonomous working. Students should also practice translating their skills and be open to exploring many the possibilities.  Learning how to translate your academic skills to the world of business and commerce can make students attractive and highly employable job candidates.

And finally, Silke and Bjanka agree that of the most outstanding things about the GSS department is that it facilitates students building connections and lifetime friendships.


The editorial team of the 2020 GSS Newsletter consists of: Prof. Grit Liebscher, Nadja Schuhmacher and Katharina Scholl.

Any comments, ideas or feedback are always welcome! Please contact the GSS Newsletter team at

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