Ben Shivers, Director

Ben Shivers has been connecting German and American cultures since his first fascinating trip to Germany as a 13-year-old. Since then, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in international relations and German and a Master’s in German Linguistics from the Technical University of Dresden. With the generous support of two Fulbright grants, he spent four years living, studying, and working in Germany from 2008-2012. He now teaches German at Woodward Academy, an independent school in College Park, Ga.

Kirsten Suberg, Lead Teacher

My name is Kirsten Suberg, I was born and raised in northern Germany, by the North Sea, and I loved sailing the East Frisian Islands with my dad. Growing up I was very fortunate that my parents traveled all over Europe with me. Through that exposure I developed a very strong passion for languages and cultures. My studies abroad eventually settled me in upstate New York. There I began my teaching career almost eighteen years ago. I have been a class teacher and a German teacher. My passion, still to this day, is to teach the German language and culture, but most importantly I love to create an authentic learning experience for my students. I currently teach all levels of German at North Carolina's largest high school, in Charlotte NC, from the beginning to German IB (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme) and AP German. I also lead the National German Honor Society Chapter: Delta Epsilon Phi under North Carolina Beta Psi. Presenting students with a language immersion is a phenomenal experience, which is the reason I am so excited about the Deutschakadenmie, at the Virginia Governor’s World Language Academies. I knew I wanted to be able to create an environment that I had experienced during my studies abroad. Being a part of a complete immersion gives the opportunity to dive into an experience to be able to speak in the language, think and sometimes dream in the language. I am thrilled to bring my experiences and talents into this program to create a fun filled, exciting and authentic language immersion program.
Johnatan Wilkey, Teacher

My name is Johnatan Wilkey, German teacher for Chesterfield County Public Schools. I avidly follow the German Bundesliga. My favorite soccer club is Borussia Dortmund. (Heja BVB! Schwarz gelb allez!) I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.A. in German. I am a fully active member of Richmond’s traditional German dancing group, the Hirschjäger. (Insert Juchzer.) My mom and her side of the family moved to Germany from Poland forty years ago. My mom and grandparents live in the town of Hanau, 20 minutes outside of Frankfurt. On my yearly trips to visit my family, I have also spent extended periods of time in Austria and Switzerland with a day trip to Liechtenstein for good measure. In my free time I like to hike, bike, run, play soccer and play video games (zocken). I am super excited to share my passion for German with everyone.
Barbara Okker Hassell, Teacher

Okker Hassell has been a German teacher for 25 years at the high school and college levels.Frau Hassell holds a B.A. from Roanoke College, a M.A.L.S. degree from Hollins University, and a PhD from Virginia Tech. She is a native of Stuttgart Germany and still maintains close ties to her home country. Frau Hassell has published two children’s books
and several journal articles.While teaching German is her passion, she has other hobbies also. Those include cooking, gardening, reading, history, sewing, walking, “not shopping”, traveling, being with friends and family.She has been married for 47 years, and she and her husband have three sons and eight grandchildren. Frau Hassell and her husband live in Roanoke, Virginia.
Monika Sierkowska, Teacher

My name is Monika Sierkowska. I was born in Poland, just miles away from the Ukrainian border. I first discovered the colorful range of foreign languages and cultures by visiting Russian markets in my home town, reading French literature and newspapers and finally, by moving to Germany after I graduated from high-school. I embarked to Munich where I was a student of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität; I studied German, French, and Spanish, and played unreasonable amount of soccer for FC Teutonia München! My passions are soccer, reading and the exchange of ideas between humans.


Meredith Lemke, Lead Betreuer

My name is Meredith Lemke and I am a former participant of Virginia German Foreign Language Academy 2017! I was inspired to become a Deutschakademie Betreuerin by my excitement to share my interests, knowledge, anecdotes, and passion for Germany with motivated students. Attending the Deutschakademie opened so many opportunities for me by raising my confidence in speaking German and by solidifying my interest in Germany and International Relations. Two of my Deutschakademie Betreuerinnen inspired me to apply and attend the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange, an 11 month study abroad program in Germany, from 2018-2019. Now I am studying International Relations, taking German courses, and teaching German 101 and 202 as a Teacher’s Assistant at the College of William & Mary. I am very passionate about German culture, music, diversity, politics, and of course the German language itself. I learned so much about German culture by meeting new people in Germany and by integrating myself into a German family and school. Those experiences drive me to share the many interesting sides of German life and the interesting similarities and differences between American and German culture! In 2017, I was inspired by the interests and stories my Betreuerinnen shared. Now I cannot wait to help create the same wonderful experiences and motivation I received in 2017 for a new group of students.
Benjamin Gleason, Betreuer

Hello all! My name is Ben Gleason, and I am a rising sophomore at Christopher Newport University. I am pursuing a double major in German and Finance; however, my academic interests besides that include history and politics. I have been studying German since I was in 7th grade, and am an alumnus of the 2018 German Academy. I studied abroad in Germany this past summer, and had the opportunity to spend a month traveling around the country, visiting: Bonn, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Regensburg and Kelheim. The highlight of my trip was a day hiking in the Alps. It is something I will never forget and wish to soon repeat! In my free time, I love to read, exercise, watch movies, listen to music and spend time outside. I knew the moment I finished my time at the German Academy that I wanted to come back and work with other German students. No other experience in my high school career was so meaningful and impactful as Governor’s School, so I look forward to bringing the same enthusiasm and love for German asI experienced as a student! It was those 3 weeks that cemented my passion for the German language and culture, and inspired me to continue learning German at the collegiate level.
Eva Nelson, Betreuer

Hi! My name is Eva Nelson and I am a rising junior at Christopher Newport University. I have been involved with the Virginia Governor's Academy for many years now, first as a student, and now going on my second year as a counselor. I am very passionate about the German language and culture and am so excited for yet another fun filled summer of learning and speaking the language. A few things about me are that I love to bake, taking walks, and my obsession for Broadway musicals.
Catherine Janicki, Betreuer

Hello! My name is Catherine Janicki and I'm a rising sophomore at the College of William & Mary. I'm a huge enthusiast of creativity: I love to sing, draw, and read! As a student of the 2018 Deutschakademie, I am so grateful to continue the experience withthe students of 2020. I can't wait for the 2020 Deutschakademie, where I'll be able to keep up my passion of the German language and culture!
Whit Armbruster, Betreuer

My name is Whit Armbruster and I am 21 years old from Williamsburg, Virginia. I am currently a second class (junior) cadet at the Virginia Military Institute with a major in International Studies (Political Science) and a minor in German. My goals for after-college is to serve in the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer and being a part of the VMI Midshipman Battalion (NROTC) has been one of my favorite parts of being at VMI.

My German experience surprises people. My family has German heritage, but I am by no means German and nobody speaks the language in my family. In middle school when most children must select a foreign language, I selected German for no particular reason. To me this was a project with a goal at the end. I told myself that I would not stop learning German until I was fluent or extremely advanced. A lot of people seem to find it hard sometimes to commit to learning a foreign language. For me, this was a challenge I accepted and I wanted to see it out until I could speak German very well. Throughout my middle school and high school experience, I have had wonderful mentors like Frau Dr. Staudt who supported my wild endeavors to become a German speaker.

I was able to be a part of a study abroad program in High School called “Friendship Connections”, where I was paired with a foreign exchange partner. Matthias was my foreign exchange partner and he came to the United States first. By the time he left, I thought my German was great and there was only a short road ahead. That was a huge mistake. Actually going to Germany was a humbling but extremely exciting opportunity. I found out that Germany not only had a thriving economy and cultures, but the friends I met there were long lasting and amazing. I loved it so much that I worked a job that next year and went back the following summer. I found out this time that language is something you must keep using to keep it alive. Friends that speak that language are the best thing you can do to keep your abilities alive.

When I arrived from Germany and matriculated as a rat into the rigorous freshman indoctrination phase at VMI (the ratline), I noticed that my German abilities were weaker than they were earlier that year as I was in Germany. I noticed that it was harder to keep up with German because there were not many speakers at VMI. To help myself with German, I enrolled myself in German literature studies (which I didn’t even know was an option) my sophomore year and to my luck there was a German speaking freshman who entered into those classes too (a native speaker). We both make mistakes sometimes in speaking High German (he is Swiss) from time to time but when we are together we only speak German with one another every day to make ourselves better.

I hope to influence others by coming to the German Academy this summer to teach my methods of learning. It takes more than the classes to get better so this is awesome for high-schoolers and I cannot wait to be a part of something bigger like this program. My ideas for this summer are to spark the imagination. I want to talk about different dialects of German because in school we are only taught the one standard version of it (Hochdeutsch). I can’t wait to see everyone there this summer!