Xan Holt joined WLC as a lecturer of German this Fall semester.
Q: What made you decide to teach German at the university level? Tell us a little bit about your area of expertise!
A: After finishing my undergraduate degree, I spent two years teaching English in vocational schools in Austria. It was initially just an excuse to do all the traveling I hadn’t done during my undergraduate years, but I came to realize that I really enjoyed teaching languages and culture. As for German, I developed a fascination with German-language theater (particularly Bertolt Brecht and Elfriede Jelinek) while writing plays of my own. The work just struck me as more formally experimentational and politically urgent than the American playwrights with whom I was familiar. My graduate research actually had nothing to do with the theater, but I’ve continued working on the relationship between art and politics, specifically the impact of Cold War political geographies on literary form. I wanted to figure out how (and whether) authors used their writing to subvert the division of Europe into Eastern and Western spheres of influence after World War II.
Q: Where have you travelled? Any place in particular you really enjoyed or would recommend?
I’ve done a lot of traveling within the European Union but not much outside of it, which is something I intend to fix once we can all travel again. I travelled to Morocco (Casablanca, Marrakesh, and the High Atlas mountains) when I was living in Austria and really loved it. The colors there are so striking, in comparison to Europe and the US at least, particularly the seemingly iconic combination of orange and blue. And the food! I would love to improve my French (or ideally learn Arabic!) and go back.
Q: What are your favorite courses to teach and why?
A: I really enjoy teaching content courses, but I definitely have a soft spot for teaching introductory German. German can be such a serious and ponderous language, so it’s often a relief to be able to use it in a more playful setting. Watching silly TV ads is a welcome break from discussing Kant, for instance. And the students have to be courageous in their (sometimes) complete lack of prior knowledge and really support one another. It’s great for community-building.
Q: What has been the most challenging experience and what has been the most rewarding experience since COVID?
A: I’d lived in New York City for over a decade, and I was there when the pandemic hit – or when we realized it had already been silently spreading for weeks. It was a very difficult time. I had lived through other hard moments in New York, but obviously through nothing of this magnitude. Despite their occasional rudeness, New Yorkers are very social animals – you kind of have to be since you’re essentially living on top of each other. And they’re quite good at supporting one another on an interpersonal level. After Hurricane Sandy, for instance, there was a lot of outreach and community relief. I think the inability to gather and support others without potentially endangering them has made this experience very difficult for everyone, and certainly not just in New York.
Still, the possibility of connecting virtually has allowed me to get back in touch with people I hadn’t seen in years. It’s been nice to catch up with family and old friends – people I couldn’t just hop on a plane and visit. And now my dad actually knows how to use his webcam!
Q: What do you like to do to renew and recharge?
A:Um, I’m kind of a baking addict. I’m no huge fan of German food (can I say that here?), but they do bread right. So, I got into sourdough and other baked goods a few years ago so that I could have some high-quality and healthy bread and pastries in the US. It’s also a great thing to do while you’re writing or grading. It creates a natural rhythm for breaks because you have to manipulate the dough every thirty minutes or so (or at least using the method I follow). Cooking feels more hectic by comparison. I prefer to do one small thing every half-hour over a longer period of time while waiting for the dough to rise – it’s very meditative.