Though his speech was aimed at students interested in the Rimbach scholarship, Grell explored the themes of foreign language acquisition abroad and global citizenship during his hour long address.
Grell shared his experiences as the only native English speaker in a school full of students taking English classes. In Germany, two foreign languages are required for most students in the gymnasium, which is similar to Americas middle schools and high schools. A gymnasium degree culminates in the completion of the Arbitur, a very comprehensive exam which results in university qualification. English language skills have become both an expectation and a normal right of passage in German schools.
"The textbooks used to teach English in the gymnasium in the MLS are unsurprisingly Anglo Centric in content, as well as vocabulary," Grell said. "There is a noticeable slant towards British English."
The Rimbach Award was established in 1948. In 1968, it ceased to exist after students voted to stop funding. The program was restarted in 2001 by a coordinated effort from alumni, who sought to reaffirm the values of the Rimbach-St. Olaf relationship. Grell was the fourth scholar of the new Rimbach generation, the 23rd in St. Olafs history.
As St. Olaf continues its mission as an institution producing "global citizens" Grell challenged that notion.
"Although it is the academic theme of St. Olaf for the 2006-2007 school year, I find the term global citizenship to be fraught with abstractions. And hence prefer the phrase spirit of global belonging," he said.
Grell describes the spirit of global belonging as an attitude cultivated by experiential knowledge. He criticizes the "ethno-tourist taint" that study abroad can sometimes facilitate. He thinks that other cultures should be seen not as National Geographic snapshots, but as neighbors.
"That is the challenge," Grell emphasized.
In attendance at Thursday's event were Virgina Larsen '61 and Jim Anderson, who both helped to rekindle the award. They spoke at the informal coffee reception of how important the Rimbach experience was to their understanding of global education.
"It was compelling to meet with these former Rimbach Oles again after having experienced what they had experienced a generation earlier than me," said Grell. "To know we shared similar experiences separated by time, but in the same place, was humbling."
With St. Olaf's emphasis on sending students abroad, it is important to remember how students appear as ambassadors of the English-speaking world, according to Grell.
"It is important for college students and students of everyday life to keep in mind that the attitudes you being into your encounters with people abroad will make you or break you," Grell said.