Geralyn stands in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
Overseas Study Program
Major: Computer Science & Germanic Studies
Term abroad: Spring 2014
Why did you choose this program? Since my freshman year at IU, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. Learning German has been a passion of mine and I knew I wanted a program that provided me with the opportunity to speak German. I had heard about IU's program in Freiburg, but as I was choosing, I became very nervous about the language requirement; the words "language-intensive" seemed slightly frightening. I considered other programs, such as ones with English-speaking classes in German-speaking countries. Yet, after much debate, many discussions, and the official declaration of my German major, I decided that Freiburg was very clearly meant for me. I was unable to find one person who said anything negative about it; in fact, quite the opposite, previous students, professors, and advisers described how awesome it is and only offered words of encouragement. The only thing holding me back was my own irrational fear. The program not only allowed me to pick up German as a second major, but was one of the best times of my life!
Describe your favorite classes abroad. While abroad, I particularly enjoyed my speaking courses (Sprachkurse). These courses gave me the opportunity to practice my German in classes with students from all over the world. The environment was always welcoming, allowing us to speak freely without the pressure of saying something incorrect because we had literally all already made grammatical mistakes in front of native German speakers. It also was very amazing to be in a class full of people from numerous different countries all brought together with the intention of learning German. I even encountered people whose German was better than their English, challenging us both to speak German as the only means of communication. It was unlike any other German class I had been in and by the time the courses were through, my language proficiency not only improved, but I had friends from all over the globe.
What was the housing like on your study abroad program? I lived in the section of student housing called Studenten Siedlung, or more commonly known as StuSie. It was the largest section of student housing, containing numerous buildings and hundreds of students. One of the best parts about living in StuSie was the beautiful lake located directly behind my building. During the summer, it became the most popular place for picnics, sports, hanging out, or even just a scenic place to study. My building housed about 30 people and I lived on a floor with 11 other students, some German, some international. We each had our own rooms, but shared a kitchen and bathrooms. Shared areas with 11 people can get a bit hectic, but it was always nice because we were able to have our personal space with the simple luxury of walking across the hall to hang out or meet people.
What advice would you like to give to future study abroad students? Be courageous! From start to finish, a bit of courage can go a long way! I was worried when picking a program about my limitations and ability to speak German, but I just needed a little courage to help me believe in myself and decide on the program that was meant for me. Once you arrive, be courageous enough to meet new people! You'll encounter new people and potential new friends, don't be afraid to introduce yourself (maybe in a different language!) and ask them to coffee. Be courageous when travelling! It is important to keep safety in mind, but don't be afraid to experience new food, drinks, or sights, and remember that spontaneity is sometimes half the fun. Finally, have the courage to speak up for yourself. This is your time, your experience, your adventure, so make the most of it and don't be afraid to pave your own path. This is a new chapter in your life, so make it all that it can be.
What’s your best memory from your time abroad? The sun beams down with its warmth, complimented by the slight breeze that ruffles the leaves on the tree branches above. Bicycle riders fly by and the only voices heard are those in the distance of friends playing soccer. Everything seems peaceful as a woman walks out onto her balcony to water her flowers. These were the times that I particularly loved. From the beginning of my time in Freiburg, I began taking walks around the city by myself. Walks through shopping streets downtown and walks through neighborhoods to and from my dormitory. At first, it became a way for me to get to know the city and an attempt to stop getting lost. But as the semester progressed, the tradition stayed and it became a way for me to interpret the culture. I used this time to reflect on my experiences and the differences between my new home in Germany and the home I missed in the US. It became a way to re-orient myself and acknowledge the implicit changes I was experiencing. This view of Freiburg was my favorite because I was able to feel a peaceful sense of home and belonging, a sense of confidence in all I was accomplishing, and a sense of excitement for all of my new and future adventures.
What was your biggest surprise about the location, culture or other aspects of your program? I found the German university system shocking in comparison with the American and IU's university system. Many of the classes depended almost completely on one singular test or paper. Many classes included an oral exam in addition to a paper and/or presentation, yet attendance seemed almost trivial. The German school system seemed very self-involved, the grades depending upon the individual drive of the student, which I found interesting, as each person's fate lied almost completely in their own hands. Another big surprise to me was the location of Freiburg in relation to other cities and countries. It seemed as if so many places were in reaching distance, being a short two-hour or so train ride. I loved how mainstreamed the public transportation in Europe was. From trams to buses to trains, everything was attainable.
Describe your experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock. Being warned ahead of time, I was prepared to experience culture shock in Germany. But even with a warning, it was the reverse culture shock that seemed to hit me harder. As I returned home, everything seemed the same. My city looked the same, my house hadn't changed, yet something was different. The first thing I immediately noticed as I got off of my plane was a trash can. An ordinary trash can, but it looked unlike the trash cans I was used to seeing. This trash can had just one opening for garbage. There was no recycling section for paper or plastic; it seemed like a waste. I missed driving my car but the lack of solid public transportation was more off-putting to me than it had ever been before. But most noticeable was the fast pace of the American lifestyle. It seemed as if I had to catch up to everyone who was moving so quickly and seemingly always had something or another to do. I realized how I had changed and as time progressed, I gradually re-established my bearings but this time with a new perspective. My experience with reverse culture shock was more than unexpected but it showed me how much I had grown and how much I stayed the same.
“If I could do it over, I would…” If I could do it over, I would participate in more clubs. Since I have been at IU, I have participated in various clubs that interest me, such as IU's Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club. However, when I was abroad, I never took the time to seek out these clubs. Instead, I was more focused on simply becoming acclimated to my new life. But joining the clubs would have been a great way to meet new people and bond over a genuine shared interest, similarly to how I made many friends at IU. I would also try to speak more German. It became very easy and familiar to speak English with the other Americans in my program, but it also seemed almost counterproductive because we were all there to learn German.
What do you know now that you didn’t know before you went abroad? I now know that the world is not as big as I thought it was. Having the opportunity to not only travel to numerous different places, sometimes even just for the weekend, but also to meet people from literally all over the world was eye-opening. Before I left to go abroad, I was very afraid of travelling, hoping that I could just get to Freiburg without any problems. By the end of the semester, the list of my future travel destinations was longer than I ever imagined. I am no longer afraid to travel or be away from home, but rather, I have been considering Europe as a post-graduation location. Meeting people from almost every continent gave me a glimpse at other cultures and illustrated the similarities and differences people can have based on their background and home. The taste of each culture I experienced also helped to put the American lifestyle in perspective. I now strive to take my experiences and reflections and model my life with aspects from both German and American culture.
Discuss: “Going abroad vs. staying on campus.” One of the things that made it easy for me to fall in love with Freiburg were the similarities it had to Bloomington. Used to being away from home for school in a "university town," Freiburg held true to the same standard. Freiburg is historically known as a "university town" and despite its smaller size, it is able to condense vast amounts of character and diversity into its cobblestone streets. Both Bloomington and Freiburg have a sense of academia intermingled with diverse music, food, and visiting cultures, which made it easy for me to feel at home. Freiburg became a German version of Bloomington to me and I got a sense of how IU's international students might feel. Although the environments were comparable, the classes were quite different. My classes were very self-driven and discussion-based, with some lectures as well. Being able to study German in Germany with a German class structure drew a definitive line between German courses abroad and German courses at IU. I was not only able to fulfill my German major requirements more easily than on campus at IU, but I was able to personally witness and experience things discussed in my courses.
How did you find scholarships for study abroad? I spoke with advisers at IU's Office of Overseas Studies to inquire about scholarships, as well as scoured the Overseas Studies website. I found it really helpful that the application to study abroad already included some of the possible scholarship information and essay prompt. It was very mainstreamed and made it easy to make sure that I was keeping on track to get all of my information in by the deadline. I was also told by many people that I spoke with and my advisers about the Hutton Honors College study abroad scholarships. I found this scholarship very helpful because the due date was a little later than the application and the website clearly laid out all of the requirements, deadlines, and information for people to speak with if I had questions.