We were delighted when Andrea Schmalz joined our community last September. Here is part of a conversation which I had with her at the end of October 2010.
How did you come to join Lee Abbey Aston?
I applied for a scholarship with an organisation doing exchange programmes in Europe, and they arranged for me to work as a language assistant in a school in Birmingham. As I’d been on the Devon community before (in 2003/4), I thought of joining the Aston community.
That’s not the only community you’ve been on….
I was also on a community in Germany for two and a half years, while I was studying at university. It consisted of 16 students, most of them studying theology. We shared our life at morning prayers and a community meeting on Tuesdays. It was quite similar to the Aston community.
What do you think attracts you to living in community?
You learn so much from the way other people live their lives and from the conversations you have. I’ve learned a lot about the Bible, and about who God is and how He speaks to others. Life on community is what has helped me most to grow in my Christian life.
When you applied for this programme, did you know you’d be in Birmingham?
No, I didn’t have a chance to say whereabouts I’d like to be in the UK. I just applied and the organisation chose this school in Birmingham.
Not just in Birmingham, but only three miles from Lee Abbey Aston! What differences have you noticed between English and German schools?
There are many differences. Where do I start… Well, we don’t have teaching assistants in German schools. We start earlier in the day, and in primary schools we finish at about 12 or 1 o’clock. Our children get marks all the way through the school year. That puts a lot of pressure on them – but I think it makes them listen more carefully and do their homework more accurately. Also, our schools are not that well-equipped; we don’t have laptops or computers or interactive whiteboards, it’s very traditional in Germany.
And the ethnic makeup of the school you’re in here (almost entirely Asian): is that something new for you?
Yes, it’s different from my experience, but we have similar schools in Germany, usually with Turkish immigrants. I’ve never been to a school which has 99% immigrants: it’s very interesting, and a good experience.
And how have you enjoyed being in Aston so far?
Very much. Everybody is helping me a lot to find my way round. I appreciate the evening meals together, the chance to catch up and talk about how the day has gone. I also enjoy starting each day with morning prayers.
You’ll be here until July: what are your plans and hopes after that?
After I finish here I will go back to Germany and start to work as a teacher, teaching English and Maths in secondary school. I finished my university degree before I came, and we have to do two years of teaching practice before we are fully qualified.
When I applied for this scholarship I didn’t really expect to get one. I just left it with God, and I wouldn’t have known what to do if it hadn’t worked out. So it must have been His choice to have me here.