The Bonn Program: A Semester in Germany

From March to July 2016, I participated in the Junior Year Program at Bonn University in Bonn, Germany. During my five months abroad, I continued studying the German language, history, and culture to complete my major alongside both international and native students.

Studying at a foreign university in Bonn, Germany for an entire semester could most likely be categorized as the most adventurous and nerve-wracking decision I have ever made. As a self-described homebody, I was completely overwhelmed by the transition and had rather a rocky start. However, throughout the course of the five months, I noticed a dramatic change within myself, my confidence, and my ability to connect with others. This was a new level of independence and I was suddenly faced with a very important choice of how I wanted to spend my time abroad: either allow myself to remain closed off because of fear and nerves or really try to push myself out of my normal comfort zone to truly make this experience worthwhile. I decided to take advantage of opportunities and also spend time with other students from both the US and other countries. I noticed that I became more courageous when it came to traveling, confident when practicing my German, and outgoing when meeting new people. My time in Germany emphasized the importance of pursuing my aspirations and showed me that I am capable of taking charge of opportunities.

My personal growth in independence and confidence stemmed from becoming involved in the Bonn University and city community and from finding ways to immerse myself in the culture. Through finding activities and ways to challenge myself, I felt less like a temporary study abroad student and more like a thriving citizen of Bonn. I found new ways to practice my German outside of class, including having weekly speaking meet-ups with two native German students to practice my German while they practiced their English. These meetings not only served as an excellent learning experience, but also as a way to create connections outside of my study abroad program. I also enrolled in a native-level University class about sexuality in the media. The weekly readings and class discussions challenged me to learn new vocabulary and prepared me to write a final graded paper in German.

Within my specific study abroad program, I formed friendships with other students through traveling outside of Germany together and spending time outside of class exploring the city of Bonn I pushed myself to work hard in my classes specifically designed for study abroad students and successfully gave three presentations in German. At Ohio State, I work as a fitness instructor at the university recreational centers. In need of a way to fulfill my workout craving, I joined a weekly indoor cycling class through the Bonn University gym. I also signed up to be paired up with a “Bonn Buddy,” or a helpful guide to aid me in my transition to the university and life in Bonn. I created a close bond with my Buddy, Katharina, and even traveled with her during a break in the semester. Outside of the university, I volunteered with a nearby Catholic church to help teach an introductory German class to refugees resettled in Bonn. Through this experience, I learned to use my German in a new way and collaborated with a native German to create a weekly lesson plan.

Throughout my semester abroad, I made the most of the outlined program that I had signed up for. However, I also took part in various extracurriculars and opportunities of immersion which catapulted me outside the basic study abroad program and made it a truly personal experience for me. I used the resources given to me to create an identity in Bonn and home for myself for five months. With a busy schedule of enriching experiences and strong connections, my homesickness and nerves lessened greatly. I became more excited to discover how I could maximize my short time abroad and less worried about the possible negative outcomes or what I would be missing out on at home in the USA. I slowly grew into a global citizen who is  now excited by a challenge and ready to chase new opportunities.

I now about to begin my senior at Ohio State University, which is naturally a time of transition and important decisions. I will be completing degrees in both German and Strategic Communications and preparing for life after university. My personal transformation I underwent in Germany has helped me become more excited for what lies ahead instead of fearful for the future. I also have a newfound interest in working for an international office as a study abroad coordinator at a university after I graduate. My study abroad experience created such a positive change within my perspective of myself and what I am capable of. I would be thrilled to serve as a resource and guide to students searching for a similar opportunity or way to grow as a global citizen. I look forward to continuing to lead my life with ambition, fearlessness, and a craving for adventure.

 

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Sheila Smith