Virtual reality tours, interactive games and a photo booth are all packed inside of a traveling showroom for a single purpose: To unify the two cultures of Germany and the U.S.
The vehicle, a repurposed semi-truck called the WanderbUS, is a part of the Wunderbar Together campaign, which was organized by the German Federal Foreign Office, the Goethe-Institut and the Federation of German industries.
Torben Hennings, project manager of the WanderbUS project, said the bus encompasses the general mission of The Goethe-Institut, which is to foster cultural exchange.
“We believe that in a globally connected world and a globally connected economy, it’s not just a nice or quirky thing to learn another language, it's actually extremely beneficial for a lot of careers,” Hennings said. “We want to bring a modern portrayal of the German country, the German culture and the deep ties between Germany and America to the students.”
Hennings said their team took part in a workshop with language experts where they came up with ideas for interactive activities to make learning about the German language and customs more engaging.
The bus features a section in the back that comes out and serves as a showroom.
“The showroom is packed with virtual reality content where you can go on virtual tours and explore German cities,” he said. “It comes with a photo booth where you can take all kinds of goofy selfies, which I’m told is what the young people are all about these days.”
Eva Humbeck, an instructor in ASU’s German section at the School of International Letters and Cultures, said she was the main organizer in bringing the WanderbUS to ASU and hopes that students can gain from the experience.
“Languages in general are becoming so much more important in our global environment,” Humbeck said. “It’s a great idea to add German to anything and certainly adds to one’s ability to promote themselves to any employer.”
Daniel Gilfillan, associate professor of German studies in the School of International Letters and Cultures, said the idea of German-American friendship stems from the long history of partnership and friendship prior to and after World War II.
“We have to think about Germany's role as an economic leader at the forefront of sustainability practices, and I think being able to learn the language and being able to access these ideas is an important side to that relationship,” Gilfillan said.
Germany currently has one of the most ambitious national energy transformation plans, which aims to put the country on track to switch its entire energy supply to renewables.
Germany is one of the U.S.'s closest allies in Europe, according to the U.S. State Department's website, which includes a robust trading partnership and common institutions.
“German-American friendship is about two countries that are moving together in a variety of directions around establishing humane ways of engaging in both the problems and successes of a global environment," Gilfillan said.
Even though college students may perceive learning a new language as a daunting task, especially when balancing a busy schedule, Gilfillan said that he encourages students to reflect on how a language like German might actually add value to their experience at ASU.
“Any day is going to be full of its own energies and distractions,” he said. “The German-American example is one that shows the value of thinking differently about issues, ranging from migration and climate change to the role of nuclear power and politics.”
Gilfillan said he’s excited for students to broaden their worldview by taking part in something like WanderbUS.
“I think it makes us uncomfortable to the extent that we can be outside of our own language for a bit, but it's an important step in becoming more globally minded," he said.
The WanderbUS tour will make a stop at ASU's Tempe campus across the street from the Sun Devil Stadium on Thursday, April 18 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.