“I think that’s what college is all about: finding out where your interests are and getting engaged in all the new things that college offers.”
Steve Naumann is a soccer fan. He is fascinated by the multi-ethnic component of even amateur league teams, such as the one he played on while a graduate student at Michigan State University or the one he will join in Lexington this fall. It is typical to have players of European, African, and Latin-American descent join Americans on the field. It is truly an international sport, one that is played all around the world wherever there is “something to kick and an open space.”
As a German professor immersed in the culture of that country, Naumann has been particularly interested in how the German people have rallied around their multi-ethnic national soccer team. Athletes with ties to Poland, Turkey, and Africa join together to entertain Germans year-round. Soccer is huge, and it’s a key part of the German culture.
“What does it mean for Germany to see a very multi-national team, all these players representing your country? How does that shape the perception of identity?” Naumann believes that beginning around the time Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, the national support of the soccer team “started to make it OK to have some healthy self-identity and national pride. People didn’t feel they were going too far and falling into the dangers of the past.”
These questions of shifting national identity permeate Naumann’s research. He has spent considerable time in both Germany and Poland pursuing studies of urban landscapes and how they affect cultural memory. Given the shifting geographical borders of these countries, “some cities have had complete makeovers in terms of the people who have lived there.” That, in turn, dramatically affects the culture and the common memory of the residents at any specific time.
Naumann is a strong proponent of immersing oneself in the culture and language of another part of the world, and he is a strong advocate of Transylvania’s study abroad programs. He spent a term in Berlin as a college student and later spent another year in Berlin and two years in Poznań, Poland. Although he started out as a pre-seminary student at Martin Luther College studying Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and German, love for the German language and culture eventually led him to stray from his family tradition. (His father is a pastor and three brothers have completed their seminary studies.)
Naumann later decided he wanted to “buck the trend among Americans and be able to speak not just a second language but a third.” While in Berlin after completing his undergraduate degree, he started studying Polish. With that experience he fully understands how frustrating it can be for students to learn a language through immersion in the culture, where much of what is being said flies over your head. He’s impressed at the number of Transylvania students—even first-year German students—who come to the lunch-time Stammtisch on campus to practice speaking the language. “It’s really hard for first-year students to come to the table when they only know a few phrases and they’re surrounded by students who may have studied abroad for a term.”
Naumann finds this openness to new experiences and to studying new disciplines common among Transylvania students. Many of the students in his introductory German courses have declared a major in another area, such as music or political science. Nonetheless, they bring unabashed enthusiasm to his class. “It’s refreshing to see this genuine interest and engagement in the material they want to learn. These are not just students fulfilling a requirement.
“One of the neatest things about being at a liberal arts college is seeing the students who are interested in so many different areas. Part of it is the Transylvania culture that supports being diverse in your interests. Students are encouraged to expand their horizons. They are more open to having their interests grow and to be molded.”