"Kickboxing, choir and French literature "

Ph.D. student from Germany aims to build sense of community in various ventures

The Spectrum

Halfway through a Cardio Kickboxing and Toning session in Alumni 75, everyone looks tired - everyone but one woman.

With a voice that overwhelms the blaring music in the room, she continues her reps and sings along with the music, seemingly unfazed by the high-intensity workout.

This is Ute Inselmann.

Inselmann, a Ph.D. student studying French literature, has been working hard most of her life. Inselmann grew up on a dairy farm outside of the city of Hamburg, Germany. Growing up, she had to do chores with her brother and sisters to maintain the farm.

"A dairy farm is a business that requires a lot of hard work," Inselmann said. "I'm used to knowing everyone has to chip in ... There's no reason why, you just have to be hard working."

Her upbringing instilled a sense of hard work and community that has followed her throughout her life. While pursuing her Ph.D. in Buffalo, she participates in a German-conversation club that she founded, sings in the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and instructs fitness and French classes - all the while developing a sense of community in each endeavor, which she believes to be integral in enjoying a rewarding life.

Inselmann admits she had no desire to come to the United States before coming to Buffalo. She's always loved Europe, and in Germany she studied to be a translator and planned to travel to France or another European country.

But in 2005, when an opportunity came to work as a social worker in Buffalo, she took it and has been here ever since.

Inselmann started her career at UB as an undergraduate. She majored in Spanish, French and German, with a minor in education, and managed to graduate in three and a half years. She later decided to continue her education at UB, and is now working on her Ph.D.

"UB is a good replacement for Europe," Inselmann said. "All I have to do is walk down the ninth floor of Clemens [Hall] and I get to speak in three different languages."

Inselmann was able to keep much of her culture alive by starting a stammtisch, an informal German conversation group, four years ago. The group meets in the Center For the Arts to converse in German and learn about German culture.

Anne Lockwood, a member of the Buffalo community, has been part of the stammtisch since it began.

"[Stammtisch] is unique because Ute welcomes everyone from the Buffalo community, not just students," Lockwood said. "She has given a great deal of her time to teaching [German] without making anyone feel stupid."

Living in Buffalo has allowed Inselmann to pursue other passions in addition to studying languages. Inselmann has been singing for most of her life and joined the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus about two years ago. She says music is something one can't explain, but "it just does what it does to us." She incorporates this inexplicable power of music into her aerobic classes and often challenges students to sing along during their workouts.

Though Inselmann was able to hold onto some of the European culture when she came to Buffalo, she felt that her small hometown's sense of community was missing. Inselmann not only infuses her aerobic classes with music but also strives to create a sense of community among her students.

"In the United States, people have a sense that the individual needs to propel themselves forward, whereas European cultures tend to have more closely knit communities," Inselmann said.

When she volunteered as a fitness instructor for a group fitness class at the YMCA, working with groups of people trying to achieve similar goals, Inselmann regained a feeling of community.

The power of communal work is something Inselmann carries in all of her endeavors. In addition to teaching aerobic exercises, Inselmann is a French teacher at UB and emphasizes the need for everyone to work together.

"I notice in my classrooms that if everyone chips in, it becomes a learning community that moves forward much more efficiently," Inselmann said. "One person who doesn't want to chip in is enough to break that community."

The joy Inselmann gained from these communal efforts gave her the desire to continue teaching fitness as a job. She now teaches Cardio Kickboxing and Toning and an Insanity class in Alumni 75.

"Doing exercises with Ute is never easy," said Sarah Frank, a senior health and human services major in Inselmann's cardio class. "You have to come ready to work out, and by the end you'll be sweating your butt off."

The classes contain high-intensity interval training. Inselmann said the exercises are meant to challenge students and have a high impact on their workout.

"I don't like to waste my time," Inselmann said. "I know I have to make the most out of every workout because if you want to progress, you have to touch your limits and go beyond them."

Inselmann believes pushing everyone to their limits always gives the most rewarding and visible results. At the same time, she said her students motivate her to go beyond and to work even harder.

email: features@ubspectrum.com