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OSU Abroad

Joie de vivre: Discovering the “Joy of Life” in Angers

May 1st, 2014 · No Comments · College of Liberal Arts, France, Returnee, study abroad, University Honors College

Breanna Balleby is a junior in the Oregon State University Honors College majoring in English and International Studies and minoring in French. During Summer 2013, Breanna studied at the Centre international d’étude de la langue française (CIDEF) at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France through the summer intensive french language program offered by AHA International. She also detailed her term-long experience abroad in her own summer travel blog.

Weekend excursions, soirées with the moniteurs (teaching assistants), dinners with my famille d’accueil (host family), and of course mes cours (my courses) made my first experience abroad a flourishing success. All aspects of my French language proficiency (speaking, listening, writing, and reading comprehension) skyrocketed while studying abroad. Combine that with my continued appreciation and understanding of the surrounding culture française and it’s easy to see how my experience abroad was so fulfilling. To top it all off, I found it was the unexpected and spontaneous moments out and about in Angers that really enhanced my time abroad. It was at these seemingly unimportant times that I found myself fully experiencing la vie française (the French life) and practically blending in with the rest of the Angevins (people from Angers).

One of my favorite moments may appear rather mundane from an outside perspective, but to me it represented a realization of true immersion. I was waiting for the bus, as I often did while in Angers. By the way, I must take a side tangent to compliment Angers, along with the rest of France on its exceptional public transportation system. When I first arrived in Angers, my host family told me the bus would always be within six minutes of the time it was supposed to be there, up to three minutes before and up to three minutes later than the proposed time. I have to say, as a frequent rider of ligne 3 between my host home in Avrillé (a suburb of Angers) and centre-ville (downtown), I was very pleased to find that my host family’s tip was correct! It was quite an efficient transportation system and definitely made me recognize some ways we coulBreanna Balleby- AHA Angers Su13 (2)d improve our own public transit back home. Needless to say, I was a fan of irigo (the Angers transit system).

So anyway, I was waiting for the bus, right? It was a beautiful summer day, but there was an occasional downpour or two even in the warmest months of the year. Let’s just say, I came to France not knowing the word for “storm,” but left knowing very well that it is called an horage. This late-July day, I was almost to the bus stop when I felt a few raindrops on my arms that were soon accompanied by the sound of distant thunder. Within seconds, I had made it to the bus stop and the rain was pouring. It was amazing how quickly it was coming down, but what was more moving was the instant sense of community ignited by this deluge. People who had been walking along le Boulevard Foch quickly popped into the bus stop in order to escape the rain. In this moment, language was unnecessary to express the general shock and partial humor of the situation. A group of us were huddled together in that bus stop away from the beating rain and rushing wind, half smiling and half in awe of the scene before us. This moment only lasted a few minutes, but it is much more powerful to me Breanna Balleby l AHA Angers Summer 2013 (3)than just getting stuck outside during an unexpected horage. At that time, everyone who piled into the bus stop was similar, and we transcended the normal roles of Angevin, foreigner, student, passerby, etc. As simple as it was from an outside perspective, it was one of the first times where my identity as “a student from the United States temporarily living in France” disappeared momentarily, and we all became “some people who happened to be outside during a passing horage.”

This experience marked the beginning of a grand appreciation for living in the moment. From that point on, I continued to search the beauty of simplistic or routine qualities of life in Angers. On Saturday, I went to the local marché en plein air (Farmer’s Market). I tried sushi for the first time ever with my French friend, Anne-Claire. I visited le Musée des Beaux-Arts (the local art museum) not once, but three times, after finding out that admission was free for students. During my one week off from classes, I even figured out how to get a library card at the municipal library! Lastly, I would always take up the opportunity to walk around Angers whether I was on my way home from the university, wandering downtown, or exploring the beautiful riverside park behind my host family’s house. Overall, it was these experiences that helped me fully integrate into the Angevin culture. By focusing on these serendipitous and passing Breanna Balleby l AHA Angers Summer 2013 (3)moments, I transitioned from being an outsider and a tourist to becoming a participatory and understanding student of la vie angevine.

It is this quality of life, more than anything that I’ve taken away with me from studying abroad in Angers. So now, no matter where I am in the world, I have continued (and plan to continue!) to fully participate in and reflect on those seemingly unimportant moments. These preciously simple instances of day-to-day life should be appreciated for the potential of adventure, spontaneity, and/or even just a possibility of a shared human experience that lies within.

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Overseas Experience Boosts Employability

April 22nd, 2014 · No Comments · College of Engineering, Returnee, study abroad, Uncategorized

Robert Plascencia is a junior in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, studying Electrical and Computer Engineering and minoring in Business and Entrepreneurship. In order to gain cross-cultural experience, and heighten his German language skills, Robert studied abroad in Berlin, Germany through AHA at the Freie Universität Berlin during Summer 2013.

I’ve wanted to travel the world ever since high school, but I never really got the chance. I also wanted to become an engineer, but I didn’t know if those two things could be merged.

During my sophomore year of college, I realized that engineers sometimes travel as a part of their jobs if they already have experience living abroad:  employers look for individuals that are familiar with cultural assimilation. Even though my mind was set on wanting to go learn about the world, I still had to face the problem of funding. While I had a little bit of money saved up, I applied for some scholarships to cover the rest of my costs. Right when it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to go, I was awarded the Gilman Scholarship at the last possible moment — which was more dramatic than I’d have liked. I would get the chance to learn how cultures vary and what it was like to be a part of the minority.

I traveled to Berlin for a month and lived with a homestay family. Having never traveled so far before, I needed to find a balance between my desire to acquire an intercultural perspective and my first-time exposure to living in another country. I found that a short-term summer program was a good compromise: I learned without overwhelming myself. I had a great host family that had been to the United States several times and had hosted American students before, but was still eager to learn about life in the States and was more than happy to share about Germany. Interestingly, they were hosting an exchange student from Italy at the same time, so I learned about Italy and the larger European Union as well.

In addition to learning through my interactions with my host family, I took German courses at the Freie Universität Berlin (The Free University of Berlin, lovingly called FUBiS) and was in a classroom with mostly other American students who had never been to Germany before. Being around so many other Americans let me see how other people handle the change, the culture shock, and how they grow to become self-reliant. Seeing this, combined with my own personal growth, I learned that different people can be the same as us.

While I didn’t study engineering in Germany and instead focused on German language, this time abroad still applies to my greater career aspirations. I was afraid to study engineering because I felt my German wasn’t nearly good enough to appreciate the concepts I would’ve been learning. I became more fluent with German. Of course, I still have much to learn – I have a clear American accent, my vocabulary is poor, I speak slowly, and I need to think carefully about how to say every sentence. Nonetheless, through the language, I learned about the German way of life, and gained that experience employers look for when considering whom to send abroad: they know I won’t succumb to culture shock, that I have dealt with the challenges of being away before, and that I am open to change. My next step in this journey is to apply this experience to an internship or to an actual career.

Even though most people set out to experience a different culture or to get away from home, careful planning allows travel to help with career aspirations as well. With new challenges always come new opportunities, and engineering is a field always looking for those driven to learn.

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A Feeling of Place and Pace

March 17th, 2014 · No Comments · College of Agricultural Sciences, International Degree, Madagascar, SIT, study abroad, University Honors College

Kimberley Preston is a junior in the Oregon State University Honors College studying both Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences and International Studies. During Fall 2013, Kim studied Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management at the School for International Training (SIT) in Madagascar.

My whole life I have been a naturally fast walker. As soon as I decide on a target destination, I charge forward, taking long strides, and moving with purpose. After spending a semester in Madagascar, however, my technique has changed.  As a student in a biodiversity and natural resource management program, I spent the majority of my four months abroad trekking through rainforests, spiny thickets, deserts, mangroves and the infamous tsingy (stone forest). All the while I learned about nature and immersed myself in the diverse environments and cultures of Madagascar. But, in a country rooted in the theme of mora mora (slowly, slowly), where success in life is measured by zebu count, family and land, where people live and breathe the environment around them, no one goes out hiking for fun. For most Malagasy people, hiking is not an activity of pleasure; it is a necessity of daily work.

In every new region we explored, the theme of mora mora persisted. Nearly three months into our semester, we reached Le Parc National d’Andringitra. This place was unlike any others we had seen yet. We hiked to base camp with all of our gear on our backs. The elevation gain revealed itself in the hours of steep climbing and in the cooling air around us.

The very next day, we woke with the sunlight hitting the cathedral mountains that formed a ring around our little plateau. Packing plenty of water and layers to shield against the cold, we followed our local guide to the trail head. Before leaving, Fidel, our guide, explained rule number one: he would set the pace. Composed of experienced hikers, the group was antsy to charge the mountain to reach our final destination, Peak Bobby, but we respected the rule and obediently kept pace with Fidel throughout the hike.

I soon realized, though, that this was not the usual, aggressive Western pace I grew up with. This was a hiking experience following the rhythm of a Malagasy man. For the first time I truly felt the heartbeat of this amazing place and I realized the value of living by the pace of mora mora. It gave me time to taste the cool, moist air; to hear my shoes scuff the dirt; to exchange ideas with my peers and live in the moment.

Today, back in the U.S. it is easy to fall into pace with those rushing around me—everyone charging forward with a purpose. Now though, I slow down every so often and appreciate the value of experiencing not only different places but different paces as well.

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Leaving India with the World in my Baggage

March 12th, 2014 · No Comments · College of Liberal Arts, College of Science, IE3 Global Internships, India, Returnee

Claire Ostertag-Hill, a senior double majoring in Biology and Psychology and minoring in Chemistry at Oregon State University, interned at the Center for Social Medicine in India through IE3 Global Internships during Fall 2013 and explains the impact her experience overseas has had on her day-to-day life.

After completing my internship at Pravara Medical Trust, I was fortunate to be able to travel northern India for a little over a week before visiting Thailand and then making a short stopover in South Korea. These post-internship travels allowed me to transition more slowly back into life in America. I first got the chance to explore the grand cultural diversity and visit some of the big sights in Claire Ostertag-Hill l India l IE3 Global InternshipsIndia, followed by embarking on new cultural adventures in Thailand and South Korea. This gave me an opportunity to first reflect on India’s culture through contrasting it with other Asian cultures and appreciate the cultural ideals that are maintained across Asia. The excitement of my post-internship travels initially prevented me from realizing the lasting impression India had made on me during my eleven weeks there.

Now that I am settling back into my life in the U.S., the lasting impacts of my time in India are becoming much more evident. Of course it is nice to be back with my family and friends, to have conveniences of American life, and the freedom to safely make my own decisions. However, there are many things I miss about India – my friends, the culture, the bright colors, the lively streets and busy village. I miss the unpredictability of life in India, and the knowledge that each time I stepped out my room, I would be embarking on a new adventure with new observations to be made and new things to be learned. I love India for all the amazing new experiences it has enabled me to have over the past eleven weeks, from the novel medical and health exposures, to becoming an active participant in the rich Indian culture and visiting the absolutely breathtaking architecture, and to the exciting activities I engaged in such as para-sailing, riding on the back of a motorcycle, and riding an elephant and a camel. It is difficult, nearly impossible, to fully describe everything that I have experienced in India and the lasting effects it has had on me as a person and potentially on my future.

Follow the link below to Claire’s original entry on the IE3 Field Notes Blog: http://ie3global.ous.edu/blog/comments/1363

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Up, Up, and Away!

March 3rd, 2014 · No Comments · College of Public Health and Human Sciences, IE3 Global Internships

Oregon State senior Rachele Gallinat is a Human Development and Family Sciences major in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and is currently overseas! Rachele is fulfilling her degree internship requirement by interning with the Eric Liddell Centre in Scotland through IE3 Global Internships.

I have begun my internship! The Eric Liddell Centre is located in an enchanting building with a beautiful winding staircase and stained glass windows filling the halls. My desk with my own computer, centre email address, and personal phone line (I feel so Rachele Gallinat l Scotland l IE3 Global Internshipsimportant) are located in a cozy little copy machine room that opens into the Ca(I)re Programme office. Despite how secluded that sounds, coworkers are frequently entering the copy room and I couldn’t find a more social office to have! The other great part? We never stop drinking tea! It’s quite lovely to always have a warm drink in hand.

This week I began researching carer support and setting up carer courses for the Ca(I)re Programme. Carers include those who are in an unpaid caring role for a loved one, spouse, friend, or neighbor. Specifically, the Ca(I)re Programme aims to provide free courses for caregivers to have a break from caring, learn something new, receive much needed support, and even get more exercise. Courses include anything and everything from birdwatching walks to yoga, painting, relaxation, and even computer courses.

My research began with calling all the carers who had participated in the courses last autumn. Speaking to the carers allowed me to discover how these courses have helped them in the long run, how the course helped give the carer a break, and other factors like the improvement of overall health. Speaking with Scottish people with various experiences has been quite fascinating and typically ends with discussing where I come from.

Follow the link below to Rachele’s original entry on the IE3 Field Notes Blog: http://ie3global.ous.edu/blog/comments/1365/

 

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Facing Fears

February 26th, 2014 · No Comments · IE3 Global Internships, Returnee, University Honors College

Alejandra Marquez Loza recently graduated from Oregon State University with an Honors B.S. in Bioresource Research and a minor in Chemistry. During her final term (Fall 2013) as an OSU student, Alejandra received a scholarship from IE3 Global Internships and interned with Child Family Health International (CFHI) in South Africa.

Fear is temporary, but regret is forever. That was the slogan for the Bloukrans bungee jumping advertisements that really got me to just go for it. Prior to arriving there I really did not think I would actually jump off the highest bungee in the world! Once there however, I just thought back to all my initial fears of what being in South Africa might be like, and how none of my worries had proven to be true. Just as I had conquered those initial worries and worked so hard to overcome the obstacles it took to be interning in Africa, I felt I could not pass up the opportunity to conquer another fear. I decided to jump. The first 2 seconds felt like the most terrifying moments of my life but afterwards came a strange calm followed by an extreme adrenaline rush. I was on the top of the world. I felt that if I had conquered that initial fear, I could really do anything I set my mind to.

During the ten weeks I spent in South Africa on rotations at hospitals, clinics and outside of work I found that the moments where I learned the most were when I placed myself outside my comfort zone and took leaps of faith with uncertainties. Cape Town and Durban were not what I imagined before arriving there but far exceeded any expectations I had. I learned to plan for things to go as unplanned and embrace the moments of discomfort. There were often little fears I had to overcome when I felt hesitant about approaching a doctor, answering questions during ward rounds, or starting up conversations with patients in my limited Zulu or Afrikaans. Despite my initial hesitations, I always felt it was well worth it when, to my surprise, it was such simple acts like those that taught me something valuable or that sparked long-lasting relationships.

Follow the link below to Alejandra’s original entry on the IE3 Field Notes Blog: http://ie3global.ous.edu/blog/comments/1364/

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Biosand Water Filter Sustainability and Khmer Language Study in Cambodia

February 19th, 2014 · No Comments · Boren Fellowship, Environmental Science, research, Returnee, Scholarships, sustainability

Jaynie Whinnery is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy at Oregon State University. During 2013, she spent nine months in Siem Reap, Cambodia as a Boren Fellow researching biosand water filter sustainability. She also holds degrees from OSU in Environmental Engineering (M.S.) and Mechanical Engineering (B.S.).

The Boren Fellowship provided me with funding to pursue a student-designed program combining research, internship, and intensive language study of a less commonly taught language while abroad. Boren Fellows muJaynie Whinnery l Boren Fellowship l Cambodiast also tie their study abroad plans to U.S. national security and agree to work for the U.S. Government for at least one year following graduation. I have always regretted that I did not take the chance to study abroad during my undergraduate years, and with my research interests focused on global water and sanitation issues, gaining more extensive international experience was the next obvious step. During my time as a Boren Fellow, I chose to live and work in Siem Reap, Cambodia, from January through September of 2013. Siem Reap is a really fun place to live in because, due to the presence of the Angkor Wat UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has a stimulating mix of local culture and world-class, tourism-driven amenities.

During my Boren Fellowship I volunteered with two organizations that work to increase access to safe water – Water for Cambodia and The Trailblazer Foundation. Rural areas in Cambodia have particularly high rates of poverty; families are often lacking sufficient nutrition, running water, adequate sanitation, electricity, educational and employment opportunities, and Biosand Water Filter l Boren Fellowship l Cambodia Biosand Water Filter l Boren Fellowship l Cambodiahealth care facilities. According to the United Nations, approximately 38 percent of Cambodia’s rural population does not have access to an improved water source. Both of the organizations I volunteered with are implementing household-scale biosand water filters as one of their primary programs. These water filters are a simple, easy-to-use technology that is proven to be effective at removing disease-causing organisms and other common contaminants in water. My research focuses on the sustainability of these water filter programs by evaluating what factors contribute to continued long-term use.

One of the most amazing aspects of the Boren Fellowship is that it requires, and provides funding for, intensive language study. I began studying the Cambodian language, Khmer, in 2012 through the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon, but nothing can compare to the daily immersion I experienced in Cambodia. Khmer is a pretty challenging language to learn as a native English speaker because there are so many differences in pronunciation. The alphabet has 33 consonants, 23 regular vowels, 11 independent vowels, and several punctuation-based modifiers. During my Boren Fellowship I had formal language lessons four to five times per week, through classes and with private tutors. After a few months, once I was able to hold a conversation, my understanding of the local language helped me form friendships and working relationships that would not have been possible otherwise. Not to mention all of the laughter, as I became a source of never-ending amusement for rural Cambodians who had never heard a foreigner speak their language before. I think they have the best sense of humor in the world. Trying my best to have everyday conversations in Khmer with Cambodians was one of my favorite parts of the entire experience.

Now that my Boren Fellowship is over, I am back on campus and on track to complete my Master of Public Policy degree by the end of the academic year. I am currently writing my final public policy essay on the sustainability of biosaKhmer Intensive Language Study l Boren Fellowship l Cambodiand water filter programs based on my data and observations from my time in Cambodia. My experience as a Boren Fellow further solidified my desire to pursue a career in public service. For that reason, the service requirement for the fellowship is a bonus because it provides additional resources for the job search. I am also hoping to pursue a Ph.D. in public policy or international development, in which case I can defer my service requirement until I finish that degree. Overall the Boren Fellowship was an ideal opportunity to have a unique study abroad experience as a graduate student because I was able to design a personalized program based on my own learning objectives and research interests. I highly recommend applying if your interests align well with the Boren program’s preferences. The initiative offers scholarships for undergraduate students and fellowships for graduate students.

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Accessory and Necessity

February 12th, 2014 · No Comments · College of Public Health and Human Sciences, IE3 Global Internships, India, Returnee

Exercise and Sport Science student Goretti Pham spent Fall term 2013 studying and interning at the Center for Social Medicine in India through IE3 Global Internships.

Coming back home I was welcomed by all of the things I left behind: my family, my close friends, good food, and a large, warm bed. It was so easy for me to fall back into my old routine that for a day or two it felt as though I never even went to IndGoretti Pham l Center for Social Medicine l India l IE3 Global Internshipsia! It frightened me a little so I had to revisit the journal I kept while abroad. Reading through my journal I was able to take a step back and really look at everything that had happened now that my nerves are calm and I’m back in a comfortable setting. Reading through my notes I realized that I really learned a lot during my internship; I learned about myself, about my career, about India, and even about my own country from another person’s perspective.

Through India’s very conservative culture I was able to step back and look at my own culture through their lenses. Neither is better than the other, rather there are just two different ways to go about life, however, being in India made me appreciate the beauty in concealing your body as well as appreciating the present moment. The Indian concept of time has always boggled my western mind. They never rush, they are always relaxed and do not often plan ahead; it is a beautiful thing, really. Westerners often worry so much about the future that they tend to forget to live in the present.

Follow the link below to Goretti’s original entry on the IE3 Field Notes Blog: http://ie3global.ous.edu/blog/comments/accessory_and_necessity/

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My Second Home: Jordan

January 22nd, 2014 · No Comments · College of Liberal Arts, IE3 Global Internships, International Degree, OUS, Returnee, SIT, study abroad

Kristin Chase recently graduated from Oregon State University with degrees in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and International Studies and an Anthropology minor. Kristin recently returned from Amman, Jordan where she studied Arabic through the SIT: Intensive Arabic Language Studies program. Additionally, Kristin interned at Ruwwad: The Arab Foundation for Sustainable Development through IE3 Global Internships.

I returned about a month ago from spending five amazing months in Jordan. While abroad I had the opportunity to build upon my Arabic language education, as well as apply my research skills and passion for social justice. Since OSU only offers second year Arabic courses online, it was imperative that I go abroad in order to continue working toKristin Chase l Jordan l SIT and IE3 Global Internshipswards my goal of becoming fluent. I chose to study through SIT because they offer a seven-week intensive language program in the summer. I wanted a program that was focused on language and had a homestay component. I lived with a middle class- Palestinian family who spoke fluent English, but also spoke Arabic with me. I was able to experience Ramadan in a family setting and learn more about Jordanian life from the perspective of a particular class in society. The program was also a good fit for me because we took many excursions that allowed students to understand more about the country’s culture and history. My favorite part of the SIT program was the Bedouin homestay experience. I had such a sweet family and I went back to visit them for a week after the program ended. Not only did my host family treat me as one of their own, but I also quickly became close with many members of the village. Overall, it was great starting out with a structured program as it provided a smooth transition into Jordanian society.Jordan l SIT and IE3 Global Internships

After completing the language program, I started a three-month internship with Ruwwad, an organization based on community and youth empowerment that hosts many sustainable programs to benefit the local people. I chose this particular internship because of the organization’s focus on women and gender equality. Ruwwad allowed me to merge my interests in, and apply my skills related to, women’s issues, Arabic language and culture, and research writing. I wouldn’t do the organization justice by trying to describe all of the incredible work they do, so I will focus on my particular projects. Since I am a Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies major, I knew I wanted to focus my efforts on something that would benefit women. Therefore, I taught women’s English classes (which were content based) that allowed me to develop relationships with many women in the community. My conservative dress and knowledge of Islam made me quickly accepted by the female students and their family members. Reputation is extremely important in such a community. The classes provided opportunities for the students and I to speak about clothing and modesty, gender roles, the Arab spring and other political issues, leadership and community involvement, as well as English Teaching l Ruwwad l IE3 Global Internshipsthe media. Every day was such a pleasure because the women were really funny and opinionated and I enjoyed watching them express themselves as they became more comfortable in class. Our conversations gave me a deeper understanding of the power issues women face in their particular community, which helped shape the other component of my internship. I developed a conscious building module that Ruwwad will translate into Arabic and implement over the next few months. I am really excited about this and think Ruwwad is a model social justice organization. I feel so blessed to have been selected to intern for them.Kristin Chasel Jordan l SIT and IE3 Global Internships

While completing my internship, I lived in an apartment with a British woman who worked as a refugee activist. It was really nice to live with someone who shared similar passions and could relate to being a woman abroad. Living in a new environment, particularly the Middle East, has a lot of negative stereotypes attached to it—especially if you’re a woman. However, I highly recommend it! I found that in general, because of my respect for the local customs and interest in the language, culture, and religious dynamics, most families and women accepted me and treated me as family. Jordan, and some neighboring countries, I would argue, are much safer than reported by the media. Moving somewhere new with such a complex and fascinating culture forced me to rely on myself and become more competent, not only in navigating new geographical spaces, but also in understanding sociocultural dynamics, my own identity, and other people. I have become so much more confident and grown into myself by embarking on this journey and I am beyond blessed to have had this opportunity. I can’t wait to go back!

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Talk Deutsch to Me

January 15th, 2014 · No Comments · College of Liberal Arts, College of Science, Environmental Science, Exchange, OUS, Returnee, study abroad

Charlene is an Environmental Science and International Degree student with a minor in German. She studied abroad at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Freiburg, Germany) on the OUS Baden-Württemberg Exchange Program during the 2012-2013 academic year. She is currently a senior and is applying for funding of her Master’s studies in Germany for next October.

Waterfront - OUS Baden-Württemberg Exchange Program During my time abroad I marveled at the Germans’ environmental protection and conservation efforts through culture, laws, trash separation, wind and solar energy development, but what I fell in love with was the language. Yes, I know. Deutsch is rarely, if ever, deemed poetic and lyrical. However, the words are practical conglomerations of smaller words. Deutsch has a multitude of dialects within and outside of Germany. The language is diverse yet unified through the people who speak it. I find it beautiful.

I did not begin my year in Freiburg with immaculate Deutsch. Although I had already completed the 300 series at OSU (equivalent to 3rd year proficiency) and could read and write pretty well, meine Aussprache, or pronunciation, and overall confidence in speaking the language was lacking. I went abroad with the set goal to improve my Deutsch, but improvement in a foreign language does not happen overnight. Through this blog entry, I hope to illustrate how difficult it can be to step out of your language comfort zone, but just how rewarding that leap can be for you as a person.

I was super enthusiastic my first few weeks in Germany, but I began to feel overwhelmed. I was far from home: my culture, my humor, my food, my music. Although I had travelled before, I had never lived in a foreign country for an extended period of time, or had to rely on my foreign language skills to get around. I was exhausted at the end of each day. I eventually realized that taking university courses for a foreign language was much different than trying to comfortably utilize that language in a society. I had an American accent. As soon as I spoke — if I were lucky enough not to be immediately “English’d” — I was asked “Ach, wo kommst du her?” (“Oh, where are you from?”).  This sounds like an innocent question, but after a while, it can become intimidating. You try to improve your language skills and integrate, yet you are continuously reminded of your foreignness.

So I went through a period where I avoided speaking to others, in German or English. My brain was so confused.  It became normal for me to mix German and English vocabulary and grammar, and sometimes even my American friends didn’t understand what I was trying to communicate. So I stopped talking and started listening. I began to observe, wNight Out - OUS Baden-Württemberg Exchange Program hich was new to me. In the U.S., I was always in the spotlight or on the stage; I’d never been a wallflower.

As I listened and observed the people around me for a couple of weeks, I began to understand how they interpersonally communicated: quieter voices, polite verb forms, overall more reserved. I would eavesdrop on conversations in the Straβenbahn (streetcar/tramway) and began to understand the little Kinder (children), which was a very good sign my listening comprehension was improving. I eventually began to realize that I would have to use German if I expected myself to make progress with the language. I was a foreigner in a foreign place, and I would just have to adjust and be more patient with myself and my abilities.

I remember one Tuesday morning in Freiburg very clearly. Waking up, I told myself, “Today is the day, I’m going to make German friends.” That morning I was on a mission.

I made my way to campus and entered the Vorlesung (lecture) room a few minutes early to find my American friend had not yet arrived. It was the perfect opportunity. I went to the row behind where we, die zwei Amis (two Americans), usually sat and asked two German students if we could sit with them that day, to which they responded “Na klar!” (Well of course!).

I was relieved, but tried to mask it—I was now sailing uncharted waters. When my American friend arrived, he looked pleasantly surprised to discover that we would be sitting with the Germans that day. We both managed to make conversation with our two new friends, although we had to ask a few times “Wie bitte?” to have them patiently repeat themselves so that we could be a part of the conversation.

At the end of Vorlesung, I was determined to not let this opportunity for friendship with the natives slip by. I immediately asked if they were free on Friday night and would like to get together for a dinner and game night at Stusie (our dorm). To my ultimate delight and relief, we exchanged Handynummern (cell phone numbers) with the Germans.

From then on, my language began to improve. I cared less about my grammar mistakes and American accent, it was more important to me that I had foundRoller Derby - OUS Baden-Württemberg Exchange Program patient friends who would interact with me and were just as curious about me as I was about them. I have to say, my language developed through the friendships I made throughout the year. In January, I joined the local roller derby team and spent my Friday nights at Training, learning to understand Umgangsprache (slang) and how to roller skate. By the beginning of my second semester in Germany, I was taking regular university courses in Environmental Science with the Germans, I had Training with the derby girls, and I spent time with my Tandem partner (my German conversant partner) cooking Käsespätzle and watching Tatort (a popular German television series). I was totally surrounded by Deutsch. I could feel myself continually making progress and adapting to the culture. I’m very blessed to have made the friends I did in Freiburg, many of whom I have remained in active contact with! Through my friendships came my language skills and the best part about being back in the United States is that I know Deutsch ist und bleibt für immer ein Teil von mir (German is and remains forever a part of me).

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