A Teacher’s Life’s Work, Recognized

Professor Receives Highest Honor from Federal Republic of Germany

Juli Guiffre


“Those who do not know a foreign language, do not know their own language,” said German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth, as he presented Dr. Mohamed Esa with the Cross of the Order of Merit on Monday, October 12.

“Woah, is this a joke?” thought Esa when he was told he would be receiving the award. “I kept it a secret for three weeks, until my wife said I needed to tell my friends.’”

Photo by Juli Guiffre

Photo by Juli Guiffre

Esa, the chair of the Foreign Language Department at McDaniel, was bestowed this honor by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany for his creativity, determination, and inventiveness in teaching the German language. The ceremony was held at the Ambassador’s own residence just outside Washington D.C.

The Order of Merit was instituted in 1951, and is the highest tribute the Federal Republic of Germany can pay to individuals for services to the nation. It is awarded to Germans and foreigners for achievements in the political, economic, social or intellectual realm, as well as social, charitable, or philanthropic work.

“I think you have achieved quite unusual inspiration with your students,” said Scharioth, who praised Esa’s uncommon methods and the way he has shared his experiments with the scholarly community.

These methods include integrating German pop-culture and music into his lessons, as well as taking advantage of new technology. At a conference for the teaching of foreign languages, he gave presentations on such things as “Rap Music and Fairy Tales,” and “Making your own music videos in the foreign language classroom.”

For the last few years, Esa has offered training workshops to other German teachers on how to effectively use German music in the classroom.

“My favorite thing about him is his spontaneity and his use of technology. He encourages us to make our own videos for class projects,” said Wyatt Baseley, senior.

“His classes are never boring,” said Lauren Hamby, sophomore, “He has such a unique sense of humor.”

“He’s insane, but in a really good way,” said Meagan Pilar, sophomore.

Esa has been teaching German at McDaniel since 1992. In 1995, he started “German-American Day”, an outreach program with high and middle school students in Maryland, Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia.

Among his awards are the Ira Zepp Distinguished Teaching Award, the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) Merit Award, the Certificate of Merit from the Goethe-Institut, and The Federal Republic of Germany Friendship Award.

Esa also promotes German language in schools, with the support of the AATG, by giving monetary prizes to ten students each year for especially good test scores.

“His original intention was to study medicine in Germany,” Scharioth pointed out in his opening speech. “The funny thing is, you has to learn German to do this, and you switched topics. It gives you the feeling that there are roundabout ways to do great things.”

“I’m still playing the lottery,” joked Esa, “so if I win I’ll stop studying German and go back to medicine.”

Esa’s accomplishments are particularly great in light of the fact that his mother cannot read and write and his father had only one year of education.

“I wish they were here,” he said to the assembly of friends, students, and colleagues. “You guys are my family now.”