by Walter Sterling '22
In short: Simply the best semester ever. Go study abroad. The longer version though is that there is no other way you can possibly hope to learn another language, use that language, be excited about the language, or annoy your friends back home by constantly speaking that language other than studying abroad.
To start I chose to learn German at Mount for both my career and my interest in Western Europe. I have studied German for three years before traveling abroad and it has made all the difference to know the basics of the language. Locals are encouraging and helpful as you try to practice your language skills every day. Any small interaction on the street or at a cash register is a small challenge and reward. Living in another country provides constant practice and real results in your language skills.
For my two months living in Germany so far, the only problem I have had is deciding what to do from thousands of choices. The bus and bike systems make the city very easy to explore. The train system makes the state and country easy to explore and everything is free as a student of Leuphana University. Everything is very close together and easy to use, even during a global pandemic.
I chose to find my own housing in Germany, which presented a challenge before coming. However, once I arrived, living with local university students has been the best decision I’ve made. Being able to make new friends and talk to as many German students as possible, has given me the chance to understand the city and to speak German like a native speaker.
Despite the pandemic, social life in the city and university is fully back, which may have something to do with the high vaccination rate here. Every day and night I can find something to do, and my group of friends, both American and German, to do it with. I’ve been to several surrounding large cities and country areas to see everything I possibly can while I am here, as well as daily activities in the city itself. I’ve been rock climbing, swimming, playing volleyball and football on the campus with other students, joined campus clubs, watched environmental rallies, and tried as many new restaurants as possible. So far, nothing has disappointed.
The classes themselves through USAC have challenged me more than ever before with the German language. The classes are based on your knowledge coming in, and then quickly accelerate. I’ve gone from limited sentences to understanding a professor teaching me in German, then answering questions in German. The professors are from the local university and are extremely helpful. The program also offered a language partner, a local student who wants to practice English as much as I want to practice German. My language partner has helped me with correct pronunciation, word choice, and finding even more new people to meet. Finally, the USAC staff who are on location are extremely helpful. They help set up all the needed paperwork for living here, arrange a few opening trips to get us familiar with the area and offer very honest advice on how to best learn and fit in.
Finally, there are only a few pieces of advice I want people to know about studying abroad. First, I suggest you should take at least a year of a language before attempting to study abroad. It helps to show that you are serious about knowing another language. If you have the chance to live and study abroad, the longer the better. This semester is going too fast, I wish I had a year. Once you are there, always have a plan for what you’re going to do that day or week, but don’t expect to plan out your whole stay. Make your plans as you go along using what you learn. Finally, don’t sit inside too much. Enjoy your time spent abroad and with that, I’m going outside right now.