Class Notes & Profiles

Teaching Each Other

By Veronika Ruff '01

More than 50 years after Brigitte (Briggs) Märkl Jaenisch ’52 spent her junior year at Vassar, she sent a letter of thanks to her “alma mater and America.” Jaenisch was among the 350 German students chosen to cross the Atlantic for the inaugural year of the post-WWII German Student Exchange Program.

“A trip to America in 1950 was almost as exciting as boarding the space shuttle today. It was only five years after the end of WWII, Germany was still in ruins, and a new war had broken out in Korea which showed that the real enemy of the United States [had become] communism,” she wrote. “This was the reason for a shift in American policy toward Germany — instead of the Morgenthau Plan which aimed at turning Germany into an agrarian state, there was the Marshall Plan and the idea of Senator Fulbright, High Commissioner McCloy, and others to ‘hasten the restoration of Germany in the society of free nations through the cultural exchange program.’” Though many criticized this exchange program, calling it a ‘grandiose propaganda scheme, an attempt to Americanize the German visitors,’ Jaenisch dismissed that claim. “In college, I was completely free to choose my classes and I lived exactly like all other college girls. No aspect of American life was concealed and I was free to move around the United States at leisure.”

“I just read through my diary and the letters I wrote home. They are full of enthusiasm about life at Vassar ... I was really moved by the friendly reception by my classmates and the faculty and wrote home about my birthday party with German homemade cookies and Coca Cola....” Jaenisch (pictured above, middle, in an American literature for foreign students course at Vassar. On her right is Akiko Tamiya Komura ’54, from Japan) now works as a freelance conference interpreter in Bavaria.