Dresden Summer Language Program

I participated in the Dresden Summer Language Program over the course of eight weeks in Dresden, Germany.  Throughout the program we took a German language course and a history of Dresden course, while immersing ourselves in the German culture.  We traveled on various fieldtrips to Berlin, Freiberg, Leipzig, Weimar and numerous other historical cities.

Traveling to Germany was not what I expected.  I knew the country was absolutely beautiful and there is so much to do, but also the little details that differ for the U.S. are the things you notice.  When a person has the opportunity to study abroad, it changes their outlook on the world.  The person gains so much more knowledge about another person’s culture, which they then gain a greater appreciation and understanding for others.  I can appreciate the differences of other people’s culture while valuing my own.

I knew when I first participated in the STEP program that I wanted to study abroad.  I am currently minoring in German, and I wanted to do something that relates to my minor.  As long as I can remember, I always wanted to learn the German language.  For some reason German seemed so interesting to me.  During my sophomore year, I came across the Dresden Summer Language Program in the fall and applied immediately.  The program only admitted students from Ohio State, which was really nice because I could establish more friendships over the course of the summer and still see them in the fall.  Talking with the locals in Germany was also an interesting experience.  It was very insightful to hear about their views on the United States as well and current events and issues.  I was able to build more American friendships as well as German friendships.

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One of the first nights in Germany, we went bowling with some of the students from the local university.  After just meeting the people in my program for a few days, we were thrown into a new mix of people once again.  All the locals that I spoke with were extremely friendly.  Most of them had so many questions about the U.S. and what we did for fun.  It was extremely interesting to hear what a normal life is for someone else in the world, because some of the things they do during the day, I would not normally do myself.  Some of the locals were so interested to learn if the typical American stereotypes were actually true, so it was nice to actually clear some of those up for the Germans.

Building strong relationships with some of the locals really enhanced my experience in Dresden, because we were able to experience things that a normal tourist did not.  People have a greater understanding of why others do certain actions when they learn more about their culture.  I was shown different restaurants and local bars that were away from the tourist centers which further enhanced my experience.  The Germans even showed us an all-American food store that only had American products.  That was really interesting to visit!  We also visited the U.S. consulate in Leipzig where we spoke with students from a local high school.  During the conversations in both English and German, we learned what a typical life was like for a German teenager.  Learning more about other peoples’ culture is a rewarding experience.  I can learn about other cultures and appreciate them while valuing my own, and each culture that I learn more about, I desire to travel and learn more.

Practicing my German in a country where it is the native language is an incredible experience.  I was able to broaden my language skills while learning about the German culture and meeting so many incredible people.  I was also able to practice my German with some of our German friends that we met during the first week.  We practiced our German with them, and they were eager to practice their English with us.  Language is important when immersing yourself in a different culture, because it allows you to connect with the people of that culture.  When I first arrived in Germany, I was very intimidated on how fast the locals spoke and very shy to practice the language.  As the weeks went on, I became more confident and comfortable speaking German with the locals.  Speaking another language is a good skill to have, because when more people know other languages, there is a greater chance they can share and tell their ideas and opinions.

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Visiting the cities and towns that we learned about in class was also a valuable experience.  If I took a normal history class in Columbus about European History, I would not have the opportunity to actually go visit it.  While we were in Germany, visiting the city and learning about its history, provides a better understanding for what occurred.  There were some places that I have dreamed about visiting my entire life, and when I finally have the chance to visit, I was awestruck, unsure of what to think.  Visiting these places were so interesting to see what we are learning about in class and what I have previously learned.  It was such an incredible experience, truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Since I am currently minoring in German, I desired to travel to Germany so I could practice the language.  Learning all about the German culture, or any other culture besides your own, is truly eye-opening.  Study abroad opens your eyes to the world, and allows you to be more welcoming and appreciative of other cultures.  I hope I come across an opportunity to work in Germany or another German-speaking nation for a few years after I graduate, so I could enhance my German.  My ideal opportunity for the future would be having a career in Germany or another German-speaking nation for a few years, working for a large company such as Deutsche Bank, Allianz or BMW.  During those years I would be able to enhance my German skills to extremely proficient and learn so much more about their culture.  Learning another language opens so many opportunities for the future.

I feel that I am more confident in traveling by myself in an unknown place, compared to the beginning of this program.  I now know, that if I go to a foreign place, I just have to be open to my surroundings and have patience, and in the end it will be an incredible experience.  After visiting Germany, I desire to go back and have the opportunity to practice my German again and immerse myself in their extremely interesting culture.  This program fully confirmed my choice in having an international career for my future.  I had an incredible experience during the two months while studying abroad in Dresden, desiring to learn more about the world and see what great opportunities are out there.

Berlin, Then & Now: People, Places, and Experiences

For my STEP experience, I studied abroad in Berlin, Germany to learn about and experience the history and culture of Berlin. Throughout the Berlin, Then & Now: People, Places, and Experiences class I was taking, I research and created a blog about an influential Berliner with a classmate. I travelled to Dresden, Hamburg, Lutherstadt Wittenberg, & Hannover in my free time and experienced the Berlin culture in the capital of Germany.

During my STEP project, my view of the world, and Germany/Berlin in particular, changed quite a bit. Being in a city where so much history and conflict has occurred in the past has really affected my view of the city and its people. A few activities in particular influenced my view point on the German people during World War II. In school, children are often taught that Germany was the “bad guy” in World War II and most go on to make the assumption that all Germans agreed with Hitler. However, that and other assumptions of ignorance were not true. In addition to my perspective of German history, my knowledge of German culture was also exponentially transformed. I learned a lot about the German culture, some in the class, but mostly through observing and experiencing the culture. I have also grown in my ability to navigate my way around unfamiliar places when I don’t speak the native language. In a way, I also feel that this has allowed me to feel more relaxed when I am not in my hometown or in Columbus.

At the German Historical Museum, the tour guide showed us footage of the destruction after the bombings during World War II. He told us that this footage was shown to Germans by Americans and asked us why we thought they would do that. After our guesses, he told us it was to make sure that all Germans knew what happened, even the ones out in the country away from the main fighting and destruction, and, through showing that destruction, to try to prevent history from repeating itself. Our guide talked more about the German perspective of WWII and how the people suffered before, during, and after it due to their leaders. That trip and tour guide really showed me that history is truly written by the victors and the losing side is often solely portrayed in only one light. It made me think about the experience of the German people, those that agreed with Hitler and those that didn’t, and how that is never really discussed in schools, which normally paint all Germans with the same brush. The Berlin Wall, where it still remains, is still a reminder of the history of Germany and has such meaning that it could not be ignored. I visited three different sites of the Berlin Wall, all accompanied by different displays, and all were very powerful in representing the history of Berlin and the people that lived there.

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A piece of the Berlin Wall that says “Astrid,maybe someday we will be together.”

Visiting the Jewish History Museum, a concentration camp, Sachsenhausen, and the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, which is often incorrectly referred to as the Holocaust Memorial, also made a significant impact on me. In school, I have learned about the Holocaust and seen some pictures but the seeing an actual concentration camp was a completely different experience and made me take a step back and think. Additionally, the visit to the Jewish History Museum showed the struggles Jews went through even before Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power, which made me think about the lives of German Jews who were treated inferiorly due to their religious beliefs. The memorial also left me in a contemplative mood and feeling grateful that I live in a time and country where people are free to their religious beliefs.

IMG_1055 Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe

Finding my way around Berlin without speaking the language has also impacted me personally. I now feel confident that if I need to, I could find my way around Berlin if I were to return. I learned how to use the S-bahn and U-bahns, figure out what food is on a menu, and order in mostly German. I feel as if learning how to navigate the city has let me become more confident in knowing that I can figure out things that I need to by myself. If I were placed in another country, I now feel as I would be able to find my way, whereas before I wouldn’t be so sure.

An experience that changed the way I saw German culture was the Carnival of Cultures. It was a huge celebration in the Kruezberg district of Berlin. There were booths representing different cultures and music being played from the different countries the immigrates to Germany came from. A huge parade was the main focus of the celebration on one of the days and it was extremely different from American parades. In America, only the people associated with the floats are allowed in the street and they are usually kept on a fairly strict timetable. However, people were dancing in the streets, following the floats with music they liked and there were gaps in between the floats for these dance parties. The number of cultures there also surprised me, as I didn’t realize how many immigrants Germany has, especially in the past decades. This celebration was a unique way for me to see some of the many cultures that combine to make German culture unique.

This experience has been valuable for my life in a few ways. Firstly, it has helped me achieve one of my goals, which was going to Germany. I had always wanted to go to Germany and experience the culture there and now I have. I was able to experience the culture in more than just a surface level, which was only possible because I was there longer than a few days or a week. Academically, I have completed a G.E. in a way that meant more than just a credit hours. I was able to gain more from this G.E. than any other G.E. course I have taken, or probably will take. Lastly, in respect to my future plans, this experience strengthened my desire to travel to more countries and learn about the people there, rather than just look at the sites.

IMG_1468“OHIO” at the East Side Gallery (part of the Berlin Wall)