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Student Experiences Studying Abroad in World Languages and Cultures

Megan Frey - Germany

Megan Frey studies abroad in GermanyFall 2019

Study abroad is something that just sounds too good to be true. I remember asking my German advisor at Central about study abroad early in my first semester as a transfer student at Central. It was something that I had wanted to do but had not been able to find the means to in the past. Just asking about what opportunities were available sent me on a path of research that allowed me to find the program that was just the right fit for me, including plenty of scholarships. The whole process was clear and easy to follow all the way from applying to the study abroad program to knowing what to do once in a foreign city. Every study abroad program can be different, but mine was exceptionally helpful, including the kind staff at the university who are there just for the program.

Clearly, there are amazing bonus educational experiences to studying abroad. There are elements of the German language that become second nature when used daily, and hearing German spoken by natives is truly a wonderful way to boost your language skills. I had been studying German for a long time before coming to Germany, but being in the country really helped me to begin speaking conversational German comfortably on a regular basis. Plus, I was able to learn so much about Germany through traveling to its many historical sites.

Even just in the town Lüneburg with about 70,000 where I studied, there was a rich history. The town’s older buildings remain largely intact. I learned about how the town was built on the salt trade, which led it to be very wealthy throughout time. The elegant architecture of facades in the Altstadt (old city) added to the everyday aesthetics of learning and living in a foreign place.

The experiences I received in Germany are truly unforgettable. I was given a host family who was so helpful in guiding my studies and enriching my cultural experiences. There were various groups and activities at the university I got involved with such as sports clubs, native German-speaking partners and day trip excursions. Once I asked an on-site program advisor about the organs in town, and I was set up with an unforgettable opportunity to play on an old organ in a church where Bach himself used to play. 

Studying abroad is an experience that I would highly recommend to anyone, even if they had not studied a language prior to living in a country. The people who came to Germany without any German skills improved the most. Regardless of the language barrier, there are so many new cultural experiences that I could not truly appreciate until I was able to be there in person. The experiences I gained have shaped me in who I am today, and the skills that I have developed abroad are an important part of my future. I am so thankful to CMU for that amazing opportunity to leave my stamp on the world!

Megan Frey, '20
Majors: German & Psychology

Nate Mansfield - Bochum, Germany

January - March 2020

Nathan MansfieldDuring the spring semester in 2020, I studied abroad in Bochum from January to March. My initial intent was to stay there until July, but due to the Coronavirus pandemic I was inevitably ordered to return home. However, though I only stayed a little over three months in Bochum, I gained a lot from the experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life. 

Because of an 8-week long intensive language program, my German-speaking abilities benefitted greatly, and at that time I gained so much confidence in my abilities as a German speaker. The teachers were all exceptional and helped me integrate the German I knew from home to what I was taught there. I also met so many new friends in my class that were mostly foreign exchange students or even students who had been living in Germany before I arrived, which opened my eyes and helped me establish a diverse mindset when interacting with other individuals. At the end of the class, I successfully passed several exams that aimed at testing my reading, writing and conversational German. This is where the bulk of my time was spent, but I also spent my time on other things as well. 

I traveled extensively where I could, visiting places such as Köln, Dortmund, and Bonn. Unfortunately, I did not get time to travel too much outside of Germany, but the places within gave me just as good of an experience and in my free time I would often take a day trip to these places just to walk around. 

Some of my free time was also spent volunteering for a local Gymnasium in Bottrop, where I was assisting teachers with educating students about the United States and the English language. This was interrupted in March due to my forced departure from Germany, but I am thankfully still serving the Gymnasium virtually and it has been an extremely rewarding experience for me. 

Finally, while the above items gave me a lot to positively reflect upon, none is more so than the hardships I faced and conquered while there. I lived alone in an apartment right next to the university, and there were many times when I had to set things up myself and travel into town and buy things; I had to learn to effectively negotiate challenges with little to no help while almost always speaking German. Though these were definitely daunting tasks for me, I knew I had to insert myself into these situations and as a result this ironically became my favorite part of the trip because I felt like I had grown so much as a person. 

Thank you Dr. Niederhoff for always helping me when I needed it; I could not have asked for a better advisor. An additional thank you goes out to CMU Study Abroad who helped me throughout the initial process. Last but not least, thank you to Dr. Richter who inspired me to take on this adventure; it has truly changed my life and I hope that everyone that chooses to study abroad considers Bochum as a destination; it is a truly unique place with a lot of history and so much to do.

Nate Mansfield
Major: International Business
Minor: Finance, Information Systems & German
Expected Graduation Year: 2022

Grace Ridley - Berlin, Germany

Grace Ridley studies abroad in Berlin, GermanySummer 2019

During the summer of 2019, I spent four weeks studying the language and culture of Germany while staying in Berlin. Not only did this experience change me for the better, but I was afforded the opportunity to learn more about myself and others, all while improving my knowledge of the world and the ways in which I can impact it.

The program in which I was enrolled took place at the Lankwitz campus of Freie Universität Berlin in the southern part of Berlin, Germany. My place of residence during this study abroad experience was a student apartment complex near Wannsee. Here I stayed with dozens of other students enrolled in FUBiS, and it was here that my friendships began to blossom. Every weekday, all of us would take the bus to the U-Bahn and then board another bus to reach campus for our studies that day. The mornings congregating by the coffee machine were not only memorable but fueled our entire days. But class didn’t always take place on campus. In fact, each of my classes engaged in field trips with a variety of locations covered, from concentration camps to museums. This really solidified what we were learning about the culture of Germany, while forcing us to actively engage in the German language.

The hardest part of my study abroad experience was leaving at the end of the program. While the arrival was a bit difficult due to long travel times and the natural culture shock which ensued, the many aspects of the program itself ensured that we all became lifelong friends, and it was leaving these newfound friends which was the hardest part of the entire journey. However, I am thankful that we are able to keep in touch through social media!

The greatest lesson which I learned during my study abroad experience was that there is so much left to learn of this world. Every day I was constantly inspired to learn new things and absorb all that I could, from music to literature, language to food. This constant desire to learn more was something with which I began the trip but which grew exponentially during my time abroad. Additionally, being encouraged to study the literature and creative endeavors of other countries really broadened my horizons and led me to a greater understanding of those around me.

My favorite memory of my experiences abroad were the times spent exploring with my new friends. We made it a mission to visit each of the districts of Berlin (we came close, but didn’t get to them all!) and we mastered the public transportation system. We visited as many of the touristy locations as we could, trying as hard as possible not to look like tourists. We also visited the artistic districts, spending time trying new foods and purchasing gifts for friends and family. It is these moments which will stick with me most, years after these experiences are past.

I would encourage everyone I can to engage in a study abroad experience. An interesting dichotomy occurs in which you realize how small you are in the scope of the entire world, and yet even so become infinitely more aware of yourself, your likes and dislikes, your beliefs, and who you are as a person. Learn more about yourself and the world: STUDY ABROAD!

Grace Ridley
Major: Music
Minor: German
Expected Graduation Year: 2021

Morgan Thomas - Berlin, Germany


In the middle of my senior year at CMU, I became interested in doing a study abroad in Germany. I knew that I had another year left in Mount Pleasant and studying abroad is something that I had always wanted to do, so I began to look into it. Studying my options, I decided that a six-week course in Berlin would be my ideal trip - a good way to start when one has never traveled abroad before. Being from a small town in Michigan, I hadn’t really known many people who had traveled abroad. I wasn’t sure how to get my passport, which steps to take next. This is when I discovered that it’s really not all that difficult to do these things. While CMU’s Office of Study Abroad kept me on top of deadlines, I found that the process of going abroad is quite simple and I wondered why more people didn’t do it.

Once I made it to Berlin, I was definitely overwhelmed with the sheer amount of culture being thrust upon me. A city almost completely destroyed by WWII, separated between the West and the East after that, and an epicenter of art, music, and culture. The capital city of Germany is amazing, and I was so ready to experience it.

During orientation, the students took a competency test to see where they should be in class. I was lucky enough to get into a class with the American professor, the first and only one at Freie Universitat. Our professor was ...different. He didn’t seem to teach like normal professors did - he taught philosophically. He taught about the beauty of learning German, he taught about the culture and war. He took us on outings throughout the city to learn about the people who lived there and the struggles they faced. The course was strange and amazing, and we all loved coming to class.

In my evenings and days off in Berlin, I would travel around the city with some friends, but mainly my friend from Philly. Heather and I would hop on the bus and U-bahn and see what there was to see, eventually ending up back at the dorm, sitting on my balcony and chatting. On hot days we would take the U-bahn down to Schlachtensee, a lake in Berlin. There we would grab some Pommes to eat, swim in the cool water, and generally relax.

The program ended too soon, but afterward Heather and I had time to travel around Europe. We went to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Paris before heading back to the states. It was a whirlwind of a summer, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. From my classmates, my flatmates, my professor, and friends I met along the way, to the wonderful sights of ancient buildings and natural wonders in Europe, the trip was well worth any struggles I might have had in between. I highly encourage anyone who’s learning a language to dive in and immerse themselves in that country. Study abroad to learn the culture and you’ll learn a bit about yourself on the way.

Morgan Thomas, '20
Major: Mechanical Engineering Technology
Minors: German, Leadership