Kathleen Ellsbury ’73

Kathleen Ellsbury ’73

I was one of the one-third or so students at CC who came from Colorado when I arrived there in 1969, during the last year of the semester plan. I had lived in many locations in the US, including small towns in southern Colorado, and at one point considered a career in the Foreign Service or as an anthropologist, but decided on medicine when I was in high school.

I swear I didn’t know about the block plan until after I had decided to enroll. No matter. It was all a wonderful adventure. As a pre-med, I had to take chemistry, which I decided to major in, and thus had to take Russian or German. I chose the latter.

Under the traditional semester plan I would have focused my efforts on science classes, at the cost of my other courses. Under the block plan, I could immerse myself in my non-science courses like German. It ended up adding an important dimension to my life that endures to this day. I took a two-block intermediate German course in Munich with Professor Fred Oppenheimer. and 17 other students. I am still in touch with several of those students.

After our daily morning German classes at Munich’s YMCA, it was a feast of art, music, plays, parks, museums, and beer halls. A recent CC graduate named Sonni Schwoerer ’70, then living in Munich, helped Dr. Oppenheimer with some logistics for our class. After our course Sonni offered me a summer position in the kitchen of a kinderkurheim (a small rehabilitation facility for children with respiratory diseases) that her family ran in Germany’s Black Forest.

I kept in touch with Sonni over the next 50 years. Over the years, my house in Seattle has become a sort of way station for German visitors: Sonni, her siblings, children, friends, and work associates have all stayed with me, for as much as five months at a time. I attracted some German-speaking patients in my practice at the University of Washington, where I served on the Family Medicine faculty for 25 years. Some of my main diversions now are German: classes at the University of Washington, informal discussion groups, podcasts, poetry, media, and films.

Since retiring I’ve traveled every couple years to German-speaking countries, including visits to Sonni and family. I don’t think my interest in German would have been as deep, had I not been part of the two-block experience overseas. It was all possible because the block plan allowed me to dive deeply into a subject not part of my pre-med program, but of equal interest to me personally. It took me overseas for an intense experience in a small group.

For that door-opening experience, I am deeply grateful to CC and the block plan. 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *