XPAT Spotlight – Interview with Rita Reiff, an integral part of the German speaking community of Southern California.
Rita, originally from Berlin, is a well-known member of the German community in Southern California. German speaking families with children especially appreciate her engagement as president of GASA, the local German American School Association. As an indispensable part of the German community in Southern California, Rita Reiff was awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz) in 2014.
Together with her husband, Rita came to the United States as a young woman. They courageously left everything in Germany behind, ready to live the American Dream!
Rita, when did you leave Germany for the USA and what was your first impression?
My husband and I moved to Chicago in the 60’s and lived there in one of the suburbs for 3-1/2 years. I had no close family to leave behind. We were young and adventure driven, eager to experience another culture. I was kind of shocked to find life in the Midwest more provincial than avant-garde, as I had expected in the great USA. Everything seemed to be a step behind Europe – e.g., fashion.
What made you decide to move to California?
Well, one gets used to a lot of things, but not necessarily to the weather! Deciding that California was the place to be, we moved our little family, by that time we had 2 children, to the Los Angeles area. We almost turned around immediately, however, because of the terrible smog at that time here, but our furniture was already on the way and so we stayed and settled.
Did you face some initial challenges upon moving to California?
The California lifestyle was appealing to young people like us, business opportunities were endless, if you had ideas and courage. It was not easy at first, but with perseverance we achieved more here in the US, like most of my immigrant friends, than we could have expected in our home country.
How did your life in California evolve and how has life here changed you personally?
Once in California, we had two more children. I finished my education with degrees in German and Anthropology at UC Fullerton and discovered that there was a German-American School Association of Southern California (GASA) with schools at many different locations, however, none in mine. So I decided to open one for GASA in West Covina at that time and continued as a teacher and school director for many years. Eventually, I joined the Board of Directors and became president of GASA 12 years ago.
Currently, we have 14 campuses at GASA, 13 in the Southland, 1 in Las Vegas. Our continued focus is on a unique multi-cultural learning environment from pre-Kindergarten to high school.
At our schools we stress language skills, culture, art and music on all levels and prepare our students all the way to the advanced levels for the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) tests for possible high school credit. We offer preparation for the German AP (Advanced Placement) course as well as “das Deutsche Sprachdiplom” (the German Language Diploma) to fulfill the language requirements for study at a university in a German speaking country.
But GASA is only one part of your life. You had quite an interesting career in a totally different field!
Yes, GASA was and is only part of my life. There came a time when I needed a full time job. I had worked as an inspector for the district office in Berlin, but here in California I decided to go into the medical field, first at a clinic and later at a hospital as coordinator of the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and managing editor of a medical journal. What amazed me is that I was being accepted for what I could do and not because of any certification. That fact alone made me want to stay in the US. Later, I started investing in real estate and also found here that there are far less barriers in that type of business than in Germany.
Your thoughts on life in California, and ‘Heimweh’?
Life is good in California, great for outdoor lovers like me – close enough to the ocean and mountains. One can make friends easily, but may also lose sight of them just as easily as many are on a constant move. In the first few years of my life here I did not have time for “Heimweh”, now, being retired, I visit Germany every year to reconnect with my home country, people and culture, but am also happy when I return to the home I have built here.
Thank you so much for sharing your life’s story with us, Rita! It’s inspiring how you made the ‘American Dream’ come true for you. Best wishes for an adventurous 2019!
Connect with Rita Reiff and GASA here
Rita Reiff – president of GASA (German American School Association)
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org ; school office: (562)-693-0223