Friendship without boundaries – by Mr Phongsavang Xaikhongkham
Friendship without Boundaries
The 62-year relationship and friendship between Laos and Germany are worthwhile long relationship since 31 January 1958 onward, and Germany cooperated with Laos in a variety of general and particular cooperations. The German Democratic Republic (East-Germany, 1949 – 1990) and after the re-unification of Germany in 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany cooperated in many fields, for example civil engineering, agriculture, medicine and health, or the education system like the collaboration with the institute of education in Laos internal the capital and provinces. The German government sent their expert staff who have good knowledge and experience to come to work with Lao expert staffs, and Laos also sent their expert staff and many students to go to exchange knowledge and experiences with German expert staffs in Germany too. Nearly 2,000 Lao students (and many Vietnamese) got scholarships for studying in East Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Today some of them are senior government leaders (7 Ministers) who are fluent in German and cultivate the connection with Germany through their “Lao-German Friendship Association” and their partner in Germany, the German Lao Friendship Society.
Now we are the next generation. In the Bi-directional teaching and learning project of the University of Education Karlruhe (KUE), Germany started sending students and graduates again in 2015 as volunteer learners and tandem-teachers, and since 2018 also doctoral candidates to deepen their Global Citizenship Education as future teachers of English in Germany. The process is to globalize and improve the teacher-education system and develop the vision of internationalization in both countries.
Various programs followed and seven new partnerships have been established, and the highlighted project presently is the two Erasmus programs “Bi-directional teaching and learning” (2018-2021) and “Sustainable Development and Global Citzenship Education” (2020-2023) in which this project has scholarship mobilities for sending staffs and students for working and exchanging teaching and learning at Savannekhet and Karlsruhe Universities for the last two years. The two universities also have an own separate partnership, signed in 2018 and had fully qualified German teachers of English come to cooperate with us.
The persons who has had the opportunity to receive the Erasmus+ mobility scholarship for KUE this second time in 2020 and get to Germany before all flights got cancelled is me, Phongsavang Xaikhomkham, and my colleague Mr Chanthalakone Souydalay. In Laos we work at the Faculty of Linguistics of SKU in the English Department and are now studying to get our next degree, a Master in Linguistics.
Being an international student at the Karlsruhe University of Education
The Erasmus+ student mobility is for 6 months or one semester. Although this period is a short time, I get many new experiences, knowledge from the courses that I took because the curriculum, teaching-learning session of this university is more modern and in line with the current society. The one thing that I like for study here is that in every course the professor helps students to find the topic by themselves and makes sure the title presented should be fit with the course subject and defined topics. Students can do their assignment and presentation individually or in group. In the second half of the course, they present week by week, normally only 2 groups to have enough time for discussion. But in big courses with many internationals for example “Global English(es) and Global Citizenship Education” sometimes 3 had to be arranged online as we know that this summer semester is during the time of Covid-19 situation.
(I will write about my studies next in my 14-day quarantine after going home.)
So every course that we took was online, but is not the problem for our learning. Everything was going well and we could finish all courses within the period. Besides that, they also have field study or study tour within the city and outside the city to visit some tourist sites and learn the history, the cultures of that place or get to know the local as well. They also offered excursions and cruises with nature activities like hiking and sailing which was lots of fun.1
Exclusive Boat trip
After I finished my study at KUE this semester I can say I improved myself:
I am more confident and convinced of my abilities,
I know better my strengths and weaknesses,
I am more able to adapt to and act in new situations,
I am more able to think and analyse information critically,
I am more tolerant towards other persons’ values and behavior,
I am more open-minded and curious about new challenges,
I intend to participate more actively in the social and political life of my community,
I am more interested in knowing what happens in the world daily,
I am more able to reach decisions,
I am more able to cooperate with people from other backgrounds and cultures,
I am more aware of social and political and global issues.
I could say that the exchange student mobility for this semester provides me a lot of things including educational and international knowledge, personal growth and good experiences.
It also provide me to get the good opportunity to know so many new friends and some of them are very friendly and very kind to me.
In this article, I will let you know only some special person and some of my Germans close friend that they are very special for me and I could not forget them in my life, because they always kind to help me when I need some help, they provide me a good friendship and relationship.
Who or what is a friend? The differences between Lao and German notions of friendship
There are two kinds of friends: acquaintances and close friends: acquaintances are people who we know at the working places like office, factory, the school, living in the same village or living in the same city. Close friends are people who know each other’s habits very well, know what we like and dislike, are people who always by our side, people who are always finding for a solution and never are aggravated when we do something wrong, but will always give advice in the right way.
In the Lao language such a close friend we called “siew”. “Siew” in Lao culture means two people or more who have a special relationship. Before they come to be “siew” they have to do a special thing like giving a promise together, or some of them do Baci ceremony. When they are “siew”, they will keep in touch all along with a good relationship and they will help and support each other. A good friend should not take advantage of a friend’s inferiority complex for example by bullying or gossip.
Friends in the definition of Lao and German are almost indistinguishable because they both want the same good friendship. It does not matter where you come from, what nationality, what religion or language you speak or how differences in lifestyles but, the most important thing is the friendship and sincerity you give to each other.
Friends could be a part of our life that we could not live without them because they always support us in bad times, improves the quality of life, keeps us active, share secrets, boosts self-confidence, comfort zone, reality check, unconditional love, lots of fun, and makes relationships stronger.
We are the human who was born in the world and would like to have good friends and peers to live because human are social animals who like to stay together as a group small or a big group to do the daily life activities. We often need supporting from the people around us or friends either in society or in any country. More importantly, the desire to be really good friends and have sustainable friendship and talking through everything. When we mention about friendship you don’t have to live near or far away we just provide sincere to each other.
In my life, I have the opportunity to meet with many people but I will not know who the good friend is or not until I spent time longer with them and I will know them as well.
Delicious international foods by Isabel Martin
When I refer to the person whose kindness and work supports me is Isabel Martin. If she did not provide me with this opportunity to study here, I could not get to know all the other good friends and have good relationships with all the other new people. I met her the first time at Savannakhet University in 2017, she came to my university for a workshop about teaching method and I joined the workshop at that time. She often came to Savannakhet University and then I could meet her and work with her. Then she interviewed me about my responsibility and my perspective why do I want to be a teacher – and then I was asked to be part of the Erasmus+ programme with the University of Education Karlsruhe!
During the time that I stay in Karlsruhe she is very kind to me and she often cooks some food for me whenever she feels free. She is very good at cooking and cooks so many kinds of food like German and French foods, Italian foods, Turkish foods, Indian foods, and other Asian foods. From the beginning that I and my colleague arrived here until now, she still cooks food for us and we also cook Lao foods for her sometimes. At home in Laos, I study and work in the city but on the weekends I usually went back to my hometown (I will write about my hometown in another post). When I was at home I like to help my mom to cook, so that is why I can cook Lao foods and now I am trying to learn to cook German foods for my German “mom” too. Sometimes we meet outside for taking a walk or go somewhere by car.
Kindness and help by Katrine, Julia, Sivia, and others in the International Office
The International Office of the University of Education Karlsruhe is very important for international students who come to exchange mobility or study in this university. Every year will have so many students come from the different country around the world come to study. The International Office divided responsibilies for all activities that are related with international students, for example organize the room for study, provide the suggestion and advice when students have a problem, organize field study or study trip inside or outside the country, and provide buddy to help student-specific. The kind people in this office are Katrine, Julia, and Silvia.
Katrine is a student-helper and my buddy and she is always friendly and very kind to me when I have something that I could not understand. I could contact her all the time and she also devises a tutorial for German course for me to help me when I have something that could not understand from the study at University and we will do the session on Thursday at 13:00-14:30 in each week. The German session that she did for me is very helpful with my German course and I can say that she is my best friend in here because she is very hard working as she studies and she works at the International Office of University of Education Karlsruhe, but she also has time to help me.
Julia and Silvia are the responsible staff in the office who organize about the whole documents and finances and flights that related to my study before I came here until now and I can contact them when I have a problem with my study or accommodation or visa.
Invite to visit hometown in Gaggenau by Celine
Celine Victoria Seeger is a student from the University of Education Karlsruhe from Team X and she went to Laos in February 2020 for teaching at the Vocational Education Development Institute in Vientiane capital, but she had to come back to Germany in March 2020 because of the Covid-19. I know her by Dr. Isabel Martin who established the contact between us and the last volunteers. She is a good friend of mine, during my semester in Karlsruhe she devised a tutorial course for me and my colleagues to support and help us with our English skills. The course take place on Thursday at 9:00-10:30 every week, and the session that she did is very helpful for me and I could use the lesson that she teach me with my study in the main course that I took at the University of Education Karlsruhe.
Besides that, she was also very kind to invite us to visit her hometown and her family in Gaggenau (a small town near the Black Forest). So two times when we went to visit her hometown we had dinner together, and her father barbecued chicken and her sister cooked Turkish dessert for us. Her parents and sister are very kind to us too and they very warmly welcomed us the same way that people do when I visit my friend’s hometown in Laos. So they make me feel like I am at my home at that time.
English conversation by Lea
Lea Herrmann is a good friend of mine here; she is a student from the University of Education Karlsruhe. She went to Laos in 2017 in Team V for teaching at Sikeud primary school. She is very kind to me like the other German friends of mine and she also did a special thing for me: she organizes the English conversation for me and other students one time a week at 11:00-12:00 on Wednesday. Sadly we never meet in person because of Covid-19 and we have to do conversation session online. We still have the conversation session until the end of the semester and finally, we discussed meeting in person at the castle park in Karlsruhe, and everyone was so excited to meet in person at that time!
When we can meet in person we also have a lot of things to talk more than we online conversation and everyone gets to know each other more and we did not forget to take group photos, because we would like to keep good memories that we did together, in the future when we are back home or everyone lives far away then we can look back from the photo and the photo can tell us that we use to have good memories with good friends in Karlsruhe.
Lend a bicycle to get around Karlsruhe by Martin
People in Karlsruhe, Germany, or other countries in European, they like to use the bicycle in their daily life. Using a bicycle is very comfortable here, and short time to get to the destination, often faster than using public transportation, and for using transportation you also have to pay. Prof. Isabel Martin established my contact with Mr Martin here, and he provided the bicycle to me for using in my daily life instead of public transportation. It is very helpful for me because I can use the bicycle to go to buy something at supper mark, sightseeing around the city, and for exercising. On the everyday evenings I use the bicycle for exercising, like I am biking to the park or the bank of the river with my friends.
Besides that, Mr Martin sometimes took me and Chanthalakone for biking trips outside the city to see some beautiful places. He drove us to see Calw town for hiking in there and he also provided his house and yard to host the Lao-German feast festival on 10th July.
Invite to have dinner at home by Shirin and Arne
Both of them are kind people and good friends that I have in Karlsruhe. I know them by Prof. Isabel’s connections and Shirin was a volunteer at Phang Heng Secondary school in Team VI and also represented Lao P.D.R. at the Model United Nations in New York last year. I keep in touch with them until now. On 15th July they invited me and Chanthalakone to their house to have dinner together, and on that day they cooked German food for us (“Schnitzel“), it is the traditional German food and very popular. We spent time together that night until the mid-night and then I went back to my place. They both are my good friends and I am so glad to have the opportunity to know them in my life.
Trip to Strasbourg by Phi Ha and Leonard
When I mention a good friend and the friends that I could not forget are both of them Phi Ha Nguyen and Leonard. They really often invite me to have dinner when they are free and on the 25th of July they took me to visit France in Strasbourg. Strasbourg is a town of France that shares a border with Germany; it only takes one-and-half hour to get there. It is a beautiful town and very popular for tourists: it is the top 5 of tourist attractions to visit in France because in this town there are a lot of beautiful places and it has a long history. On this trip, we visited around the town and we spent time for 4 hours there and it made me so happy because it was the first time for me to visit another country outside Germany.
Warm welcoming to visiting hometown and Switzerland trip by Rebecca Dengler and her parents
On the 3rd of August 2020 we were invited by Rebecca Dengler to visit her hometown and her family in Nagold. It is a small town in the Calw region. We were invited to stay one night and sleep at her parents’ house, they are very kind to us, and her mother cooked dinner for us that evening. The day after they decided to take us to visit Hohenzollern castle near their hometown and the border of Switzerland, but on that day the weather got very cold. In the day that we arrived at their home it was rainy, and then Rebecca decided to take us to the castle the next day, but after visiting the castle and us on the way to parking, her parents suddenly told us that they will take us to visit Switzerland next because her father read on the Internet that it would be snowing in there. Snow!
I told them the day before at dinner that I have never seen the snow in my life and it was my greatest wish to one day see and feel snow. So when he decided to take us to visit the snow in Switzerland at Santis mountain, I am so very happy to see the snow and so Switzerland is my dream country that would like to visit because I can see snow there. Thus, Rebecca and her parents make my dream come true.
Good friends are hard to find, one must invest time and effort into making friends with people. Friends stick with you through the harsh and worst times of your life. When one feels completely lost and broken, friends come to aid. Friends see through your smiles and know when you are hurt. They know you better than other people. Not everyone understands the intent and purpose of your actions and words. Friends respect your ideas and thoughts.
The reasons mentioned here are enough to understand the importance of friendship. You should not miss the chance of making new friends. You should always appreciate the love and care they give you.
After school and college days, you will all be heading into different directions in life, but if your friendship is strong then you will always find them beside you when you need them even after years of separation. Friends are someone who is not related to you by blood, but sometimes they are closer to you than your own relatives.
Text by P. Xaikhongkham
Photos by J. Friedl, C. Seeger, P. H. Nguyen, R. Dengler, C. Ke, C. Souydalay & P. Xaikhongkham
1 Actually, when I was in my home country I did not have too much time for traveling or spending time with friends as we do in here because we have more than one job or occupation at home. So I still have one place in Laos that I really would like to visit but I never to visit there before, so after I return to Laos I will try to visit there one day: Louangprabang, the old capital of Laos or the Lan Xang Kingdom (land of the million elephants) between the 14th -16th century. The town was designated a world heritage site in 1995. This place is very beautiful and peaceful, there are a lot of tourist attractions like a peaceful town, temples, natural place, and historical places, there are a lot of activities to do in there such as boat trip, alms-giving in the early morning, tradition morning market, colorful night market, watch the traditional dance performance, what the sunset in the top of Phusi mountain, etc. If you could visit Laos one day I would recommend you that you should not miss visiting this place and you would be happy and impressed when you visit there.