While most freshmen spend their first two weeks at college figuring out classroom locations or trying to remember their passcodes to get into the dorms, Zoe Kushubar was packing her bags for a 10-day German music tour.
The trip was part of Converse’s Petrie School of Music collaboration with the Bach Choir Ortenau in Germany for a joint performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor.
Despite her concerns about leaving so early on during her first semester as a Violin Performance major at Converse College, with an academic load of 18 credits, Zoe knew this was an experience she couldn’t turn down. “I had to work a lot during my down time in my European home so I could stay caught up in my calculus class and ‘History of Disease’ seminar,” Zoe said. “It wasn’t easy, but I managed to catch up relatively quickly when I came back.”
Read more about Zoe’s firsthand experience touring castle ruins, cruising the autobahn and bonding with her host family:
“Last fall I departed for Stuttgart, Germany for a collaborative music tour. I traveled with several music students and faculty from Converse College along with members of the Spartanburg Festival Chorus. We rehearsed with German and French orchestral musicians and the Bach-Chor Ortenau, and we put on two performances of Bach’s two-hour-long Mass in B Minor.
We did sightseeing tours in cities like Heidelberg, Freiburg, and Alpirsbach; we visited the Black Forest Open Air Museum and toured monasteries and castle ruins; and we even spent a day in Strasbourg, France.
Rather than staying in hotels, we stayed with a host family. My roommate, Leslie, and I stayed with Claire and Bernhard Vogt and their two children, Lukas and Elias. From the windows in our bedroom, you could see the ruins of the Schauenberg castle and endless vineyards in the distance. Leslie and I had the top floor to ourselves with a bathroom, the bedroom, and an office space in case we needed to get homework done. Claire and Bernhard also had a little backyard with a sandbox/play area for the boys and a garden. You could see the ruins of the Schauenberg castle and endless vineyards in the distance.
The food they cooked was generally organic and almost always home-made. Fresh bread and homemade preserves were a breakfast staple. One thing they don’t consume as commonly is still water. Instead, they buy mineral (sparkling) water in bulk and either drink it plain or add apple juice. I especially love the German grocery stores because of the bakeries; there are so many different pastries and bread — it is so hard to decide what you want!
I feel like I got so much more out of the trip because my host family helped us engage in German traditions and events.
Besides having authentic, less processed food, I also noted how people take water and energy conservation so seriously. Everywhere I looked I saw solar panels and the occasional wind turbine. They are very efficient in utilizing their resources. Elias’s kindergarten class even takes trips to the Black Forest occasionally to learn about the region, its resources, and wildlife.
I always love bringing up the autobahn, a highway that doesn’t have a set speed limit. Whenever we got on it I would look around to see the variety of speeds at which cars were passing. It was really fascinating. It was small things like this that make me appreciate different cultures and lifestyles.
Claire and Bernhard did a wonderful job of showing us around their Oberkirch community and teaching us about everyday life as German citizens. They are the sweetest couple, and they were such wonderful hosts to Leslie and me. They spoke English very well, so it wasn’t too difficult to communicate.
I have spent time around German-speaking people for a lot of my life, especially with my best friend’s dad hailing from Austria. I picked up some German words, like “bitte” for “please” and “danke” for “thank you.” I asked so many questions like, “How do you say this?” or “What does this mean?” I am sure I drove Claire and Bernhard up a wall, but they were always willing to answer any questions or clarify any pronunciation issues.
I picked up quite a few words and phrases while I was over there, and I was even able to read the German portion of the children’s books our host parents had. Reading these stories to Lukas and Elias was a lot of fun. I had no idea what I was saying most of the time, but Leslie read the English translations if they were available.
I feel like I got so much more out of the trip because my host family helped us engage in German traditions and events. They opened up my perspective about what it’s like to live on the opposite side of the world in the beautiful country of Germany, and I am so incredibly happy to call them friends of mine. The cultural exchange was one of the most rewarding aspects of this tour, and I hope I can travel over there again not only to make new friends and new memories, but I would love to perform there again.
Zoe Kushubar being interviewed by local news station WYFF
Until next time, Germany, Auf wieder sehen.”
Zoe wouldn’t miss her host family for too long. The Vogt’s, musicians themselves, came to Converse from Germany to perform one of Bach’s monumental and complex life works, the B Minor Mass. This time it was Zoe’s turn to play host. “When I saw my host family for the first time after leaving Germany, I couldn’t contain my excitement,” said Zoe. “It was just so comforting to see them again.”
Zoe was interviewed by local NBC news affiliate WYFF about her Germany experience and reuniting with her host family for another performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass at Twichell Auditorium. “Claire and Bernhard were the most thoughtful hosts,” Zoe told reporter Mike McCormick. “They answered all of my questions about what life was like in Germany, and with them coming to the US, I was finally able to answer some of their questions.”