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An Experience for Everyone

June 12, 2019

Year in school: Senior
Majors: German, Scandinavian, Dutch (with an emphasis in German) and Global Studies
Minor: Biology
Language studied: German
Learning abroad experience: Berlin, Germany, spring 2018

How did you choose your program? What was it like?

I chose the IES Berlin program because of the timeframe. I liked how it fit in with the UMN academic schedule so that I still had my entire summer. My program was really nice, it had around 40 students, and I made some good friends who I enjoyed traveling and doing life with. I was placed with a host family; it was an awesome experience because I got to live in a quaint neighborhood called Schöneberg and take the S-Bahn to class like a real German! Most of my coursework was in English, but I had a German language class and some of the films we watched in my cinema class were in German.

During my time abroad I did a lot of traveling. Berlin has two airports (functioning airports, that is—the Germans know what I mean), so I took full advantage of the reasonably priced airfare and the close proximity of European countries. I was able to visit two of my friends on the weekends: Jonas, who lives in Winterthur, Switzerland, and Sophia, who lives south of Munich, Germany. It was awesome to be able to see them again, and I am blessed to have friends in other parts of the world. It makes the world seem small and encourages me to care about other countries because what’s happening there impacts people I care about.

I also volunteered weekly at a cafe where I taught English to refugees. Most of the people there were from Syria, but a few others were from Honduras and other countries. These weekly teaching sessions made my time abroad very meaningful because I made great friends, like Amir, who I would hang out with outside of class. He would speak English while I spoke German (he was quite good at German). He even invited my friend and I over to his apartment where he cooked us a traditional Syrian meal; it was delicious!

Knowing a lot of German was very helpful in teaching the refugees English because nearly all of them had at least a basic understanding of German, whereas they knew much less English. I could explain the meaning of English words to them in German. I gained a lot of empathy and respect for the people I met because they worked hard to be productive global citizens and make the best out of their new lives. They were also some of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met, and I am very thankful I had the opportunity to work with everyone at the cafe. I miss them dearly!

Do you have a favorite memory from your time abroad?

I made many amazing memories while abroad, but one of my favorites has to be the weekend I spent with my friend Jonas in Switzerland. I stayed at his house with his family and they were incredibly kind to me. They had a welcome sign for me when I arrived and made me delicious meals, including raclette, which is a traditional Swiss meal with lots of melted cheese. They lived on a farm and I woke up one morning early to help his dad milk the cows, even though I probably wasn’t much help because I slowed him down, but they loved my enthusiasm. Jonas and I also went skiing in the Alps, which was on my bucket list because I am an avid skier. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life, and it was even more breathtaking than I had imagined.

If you received any scholarships, how did they aid your learning abroad experience?

I received a generous scholarship from the GNSD department that helped me go abroad. I could not fully express my gratitude towards the department for the gift they gave me through the scholarship. It means so much to me that professors in the department felt I was deserving of the scholarship and wanted me to get the best out of my abroad experience.

What connections do you see between your learning abroad experience and your major? How does understanding another language and culture give you an advantage in the workplace? How does it enrich your life in general?

Well, I had to speak German to move through my daily life and I’m a German major so that connection is easy! As for my global studies major, I learned a lot about contemporary issues and the EU, which gave me a deeper understanding of intercultural relations and globalism. Learning another language has really enriched my life because it gives me insight into how another culture thinks and processes information. Our languages shape our cultures and vice versa, and the way we express ourselves is found within the confounds of our language. A person who speaks English doesn’t express themselves the same way as a person who speaks German because their ability to express ideas is limited by the vocabulary of their language. Some words in English don't directly translate to German and the same goes for German words. It’s really an awesome thing to learn a word in German that we don't have an English word for and struggle to develop an understanding of that word. This curiosity has given me an appreciation of other cultures and languages due to their unique and individual beauty.

What advice do you have for students who are thinking about studying abroad?

Every student should consider studying abroad! It’s an experience unlike any other and it will really enrich your college experience. There are so many study abroad programs out there; you’ll be able to find one that fits your schedule, course work, and budget. A helpful way to make studying abroad fit more easily into your course work is by saving your liberal education credits for your abroad experience. That way you don’t necessarily have to find a program that corresponds directly to your major, and it opens up a wider range of possibilities.

This story is part of a larger article. Read more at Learning Abroad Is for Everyone.

This interview was conducted by an undergraduate student in CLAgency. Meet the team.