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RapidChat: Dr. Katharina Hausler-Gross

With two films down, the 9th season of the Chiaroscuro International Film Series is already in full swing. Hosted by the UICA, this film series aims to increase cultural awareness through the medium of film. For 2015 the theme is "Generations," which explores shared human experiences across ages and cultures across the globe -- a topic which Dr. Katharina Häusler-Gross, president of the organization, can speak to from personal experience. 
Katharina Haeusler Gross

With two films down, the 9th season of the Chiaroscuro International Film Series is already in full swing. Hosted by the UICA, this film series aims to increase cultural awareness through the medium of film. For 2015 the theme is "Generations," which explores shared human experiences across ages and cultures across the globe -- a topic which Dr. Katharina Häusler-Gross, president of the organization, can speak to from personal experience. 
RC: Where did you grow up?

KH: I was born and grew up in East Germany, in a small town called Anklam in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which is located in the NE corner of the current state of Germany.
 
RC: What brought you to the United States?

KH: During the summer and fall of 1989 I lived in East Berlin/East Germany and witnessed the events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 1989 - including the night the wall actually came down.
 
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, I completed my Second State Exam in English and German in West Berlin from 1990-1992. Shortly after that I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship and came to the US in 1992, teaching English and Russian at Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA. Falling in love with Chicago, I taught at the Goethe Institute, which is Germany’s worldwide Cultural Institute, for a few years before moving to Michigan in 1997.
 
RC: Wow, that must have been a pretty life-changing experience. What was it like living in Germany at that time?

KH: I have often been asked that question, and my answer may not be representative of the other 16 million East Germans, because of a number of factors. Family life and upbringing, geographic location, education, social and political activities, personal and public interests all play an important role in terms of how they influence my individual and collective experience of having lived in a state that ceased to exist in 1989/1990. 
 
With that being said, growing up my parents made sure that my siblings and I had access to as many educational opportunities as possible under the given circumstances. And while I may not have had the chance to travel to "the West" back then, I visited many beautiful places such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Russia, Moldavia, and Ukraine. All of these experiences have taught me tolerance, openness, humility, and appreciation for “the other."
 
RC: Amazing. Back to your Fulbright scholarship – because I know it's a very exclusive opportunity for those who are accepted into the program. How did that shape you, and did it affect your career path in any sort of way?

KH: The Fulbright was not the first step I took in opening doors to new or different career paths – I have had a few interesting ones in the past. Rather, my Fulbright year was a continuation of what I always wanted to do: to learn more, to meet new people, travel to different places, to experience more, to know more. The journey continues.
 
RC: With one of those things being your role as president for the Chiaroscuro International Film Series hosted by the UICA. How did you first get involved with that?

KH: Having taught in the Aquinas College German Studies program since 1998, I focused on curricular development and introduced courses that were not available until then. One of those courses was a German Film Studies course, entitled “Teaching German Culture and Society Through Film." The course was well received and I began to collaborate with other departments on campus to offer cross-listed courses. My interest in Film Studies – and in particular viewing socio-political, historical and societal changes through the lens of filmmakers – led to my interest in and collaboration with the Chiaroscuro International Film Series in 2006. 
  
RC: For those who are unfamiliar with the Chiaroscuro International Film Series, how would you describe it to them?

KH: Chiaroscuro’s focus lies on highlighting and celebrating diverse global cultures and our mission is to promote education and understanding of these diverse cultures through international films. However, since 2006 the annual series has developed and grown quite a bit. Each Chiaroscuro event now features four distinctive yet connected parts of the program that include a local short film, international feature film, panel discussion with scholars and film experts, and a reception with refreshments.
 
RC: What have been some of your favorite features in the past?

KH: That’s not an easy question to answer, as each series is different, based on the chosen theme, based on the selected films, based on the interplay between all the different parts that go into creating each series.

Also, my own favorite films may not necessarily reflect the audience’s top choices. I grew up watching “films” – not “movies." The different use of light, of space, of sparse but powerful language, of stills, of open endings – all that, and more, is what I consider when watching these films.

RC: What influenced your passion for culturally foreign films?

KH: Culturally foreign films provide an image of the way the fabric of daily life is formed or transformed in different parts of the world. Therefore they can provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the country’s history, both past and present. Furthermore, they serve as historical and socio-cultural evidence in similar ways that other representational art forms do, by making events and behaviors vivid, portraying social attitudes, and revealing assumptions of past and present societies. Examining these characteristics from a socio-cultural perspective and highlighting their value for the Grand Rapids community is an important aspect of my work as an educator and community advocate.
 
RC: What are some of your other interests and hobbies?

KH: Traveling, traveling, and traveling. Across the whole globe, if I had the time! Also trying culturally different foods made by locals and playing, making, and listening to music.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media
 
 
 
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