By EMILIE NELSON
Messenger staff writer
For the past 20 years, Iowa Central Community College has been celebrating cultural diversity with its international focus program.
Through the program, students, faculty and staff focus on one country each year and hold various programs, book discussions and video sessions throughout the school year.
During the 2008-2009 year, the campus has focused its attention on Germany, said David Drissel, professor of social sciences.
With the upcoming 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, some social science and literature classes have incorporated the use of the book, "After the Wall," by Jana Hansel, who tells of her experiences living in East Germany before, during and after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
"The anniversary of the wall is one of the reasons we chose Germany this year," Drissel said. "There are also many people of German descent living in this area."
A recent international focus discussion featured Hansel's book and a presentation by Drissel on his trip to Germany.
"What we learn from the book is that communism in East Germany wasn't all bad," said Jennifer Berte, instructor of language arts. "It had an emphasis on giving back, and a sense of volunteerism and community. Everyone had a job. East Germany had a higher quality of life than most communist nations."
Berte told students and staff at the discussion that after the wall fell some East Germans were happy to see change coming to their country, while others were not.
"It was kind of a culture shock to them," she said. "Like a utopia. Some were excited and some were not."
She also noted that Hansel's book described how for years, East and West Germans could tell each other apart by characteristics as simple as the way they dressed.
During a trip to Berlin, Drissel conducted informal interviews with 35 teenagers and young adults, many of whom were young enough to barely remember the fall of the wall, to see if they still noticed cultural differences between East and West Germans.
"They have what is known as a 'wall in the head,'" he said. "The wall has fallen, but it is still there in the heads of many Germans. They still have stereotypes and can distinguish between one another with they way they talk and the way they dress.
Drissel's studies led him to conclude that the many subcultures, such as skateboarders and punkrockers, help to unify the youth of both East and West German descent.
"I spent some time talking with teens in a punk rock club," he said. "I asked a young man if he could distinguish 'Ossis' from the 'Wessis,' and he could, but he told me 'it doesn't matter, we're all punks here.' The subcultures bring them together."
Drissel wrote a paper on his findings that he will present at a conference this summer.
Contact Emilie Nelson at (515) 573-2141 or email@example.com