“It was a pretty great cognitive exercise. I feel my brain has grown.”
Chris is a German studies and biology major who spent a year in Berlin with the Learning Abroad Center’s scholarship exchange program, IRSEP. He was able to enjoy German culture by spending time with friends and relatives, while also improving his language abilities.
At first, Chris struggled with the different approach to university study that he found in Germany. However, the fact that his courses only asked for a presentation and a final paper was outweighed by the experience of life in and outside of the classroom. For example, Chris took a Spanish course, in which he had to rely on his knowledge of German to help him gain skills in a new language. "It was a pretty great cognitive exercise," he said. "I feel my brain has grown."
While Chris’ knowledge of German grew, so did his knowledge of the cultural context of the language. "I don’t think you can read a book about German culture and understand it," he said. "You kind of have to be there. So, my visiting a soccer game, or being in the Reichstag, or having conversations with German people about whether or not Turkey should be in the EU, these types of things all contributed to just my total awareness of German, and I that’s a huge thing, I think, in the major."
Chris took advantage of many opportunities to travel during the year. He has family that lives in southern Germany, and was able to spend several weeks with them at a time. “I went through the traditions with these people at Christmastime, what they ate, what they drank, the songs they sang, and I went to church with them. I think these types of things were a deeper experience for me.” He also traveled with new friends to other parts of Europe, and was able to stay with their families. “One of the most special things about my traveling was that I wasn’t just traveling. I went to Poland with my Polish friend. He took me to Krakow, and showed me everything there. When I went to Italy, I actually went with one of my better Italian friends, and I got to stay with his family in Verona. It was great; they were the most passionate mediterranean family, and so I got to see what a normal Italian family is like. When I was in Switzerland, I got to hear a French speaking family communicate, and they took me around Frieberg and Bern and other places in Switzerland.” Chris suggests that every student take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad. “Look at your situation, and I would say, you do have a year of your life right now that you can spend in another country. I don’t know if you’re ever going to find that again.”
Check out the Learning Abroad Center's IRSEP Germany program.