With utmost gratitude and modesty, I was rewarded the opportunity to participate in an immersive and transformational experience this summer as a participant in The Dresden Summer Language Program offered through The Ohio State University’s Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures. This STEP Signature Project I participated in was an eight-week academic and language intensive program that focused on providing German language students with an opportunity to improve their language abilities, study the prior and recent history of Dresden and Saxony in general, as well as to experience complete immersion in contemporary Germany life and culture alongside native speakers and locals. The Dresden Summer Language Program additionally permitted students to explore a wide array of historical and cultural sites all across Germany, in cities ranging from Weimar to Berlin. While based in Dresden at the Technische Universität Dresden (TUD) campus, students were able to strengthen and develop our language skills while engaging with coursework that enhanced our experiential travels.
While traveling abroad and participating in the program, I had come to understand various personal changes and transformations that had occurred from my engagements. Through these travels and experiences, I was able to motivate myself outside of my comfort zones, find opportunities to learn in every circumstance, and grow tremendously as a person in terms of improving my skills of independence, adaptability, resilience, and confidence. Various experiences had challenged me to seize these skills and further my personal growth while abroad. Despite the short duration of the program, I found myself challenged by the ephemerality of each moment. Through this, I have gained a greater appreciation for each experience, living in the moment and cherishing what is happening in the present.
My view of the world also transformed as I was able to visit various locations throughout the study abroad experience. Not only were my travels around Germany with the program, but additionally I sought to independently explore the Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Slovakia, Ireland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Navigating many of these countries and indulging in the cultural customs and beliefs broadened my appreciation and awareness for diversity. Furthermore, conversations and spending time with locals provided insight into the human condition and how even if we are separated geographically or linguistically, we all experience much of the same understandings and emotions. Even upon my return to the United States I realized that I had obtained a newfound appreciation for Germany and all of its unique aspects.
Immediately upon arrival in Dresden, I was already tasked with acting independently: needing to purchase my textbooks, grocery shop for the week, and navigate my way around the new city, all while speaking in the target language. It was necessary to be self-reliant during the program: managing a budget, coordinating daily activities effectively, preparing meals, adhering to a course schedule, and cleaning when necessary. All of these activities required active attention and consistency in order to ensure that I was properly acclimating to the new environment and sustaining an engaged lifestyle.
Although hesitant and nervous at first to speak in the target language, I began to grow in confidence through experience and braving my approach to each conversation. One of the metric activities of the program was to attend a meet-and-greet with students local to the Technische Universität Dresden (TUD) institution. For almost two hours, other Ohio State students and myself were required to facilitate conversations with the array of peers from the hosting university to discuss ourselves as well as prominent topics in German society and culture. Although anxious before the undertaking, I was reassured by my peers that sufficient experience and appropriate practice had prepared us for the event and that simply communicating with other individuals is nothing to fear. The encouragement of my peers as well as self-motivation promoted going outside of my comfort zones to maximize my experiences while abroad, even when it came to events such as kayaking the Elbe River, touring the Berlin Underground, and visiting Auschwitz. If it weren’t for overcoming my apprehensions, I would’ve missed out on extraordinary opportunities with extraordinary people.
Whether it was approaching conversations with grocery store attendants, interacting with locals at the various sites we visited, or engaging in discussions with my professors; pushing myself to converse in the German language and advance my skills significantly granted assurance that I could utilize them effectively.
Adaptability is certainly a skill that I have come to harness during my time abroad. Being level-headed, open-minded, and flexible to adjust to unintended circumstances or obstacles that arise comes with practice and exceptional experiences. On a free weekend during the program, I met a fellow Ohio State student in Austria and Slovakia during her independent study abroad. As we parted ways and she returned to Poland, I had boarded my train to return to Dresden. Shortly into the journey, the train had broken down and I was required to get off at a station outside of Brno in the Czech Republic. Immense confusion plagued all of us that were aboard the train destined for Germany. Perplexed by the lack of presence by a central authority, I found myself required to interact with countless strangers to understand what was happening, where I was to go, and when I was to get there. Many people I tried to engage with were not English nor German speakers, complicating my situation furthermore. Despite being alone, I had to reassure myself that being level-headed and optimistic are necessary to calmly resolve the situation. Patience was crucial too as I was unable to obtain the information necessary to continue my journey until about two hours beyond the train’s unexpected halt.
It was during this unforeseen journey that I met an elderly British couple that assisted me with planning an alternate route we all had to venture on. During the remainder of the journey to Germany, we were able to have an array of discussions, ranging from our recent travels to our youthful upbringings. United by the irony of a train breaking down, we were able to converse for the extent of a cross-country travel, exchange stories and life experiences, and share countless laughs. Moments like this enhance my appreciation for the human condition and the associated occurrences, involvements, or emotions that everyone experiences. Despite having experienced very different pasts, currently having very different lifestyles, and intending to have very different paths ahead, we were connected by the sheer bond of humanity and contagious optimism. The unsettled attitude and confusion that resulted from the unfortunate circumstances that had delayed my travels was easily remedied by simple human interaction and compassion.
Augmenting my German language skills, expanding my cultural awareness and understandings of contemporary German life, and exploring my identity as a global citizen and Ohio State ambassador have proved advantageous in my growth towards my future ambition of becoming a pharmaceutical sales representative. These advancements will certainly progress my prospective ability to network globally and to market emergent therapeutic products in western and eastern European markets within the pharmaceutical sales market. Noting the multitude of advantages that accompany proficiency in a secondary language, in addition to opportunities for growth, transformation, and cultural understanding, I pursued the transformational experience that would enhance myself personally as well as in being a candidate that can adequately communicate and ensure that the therapeutic is appropriate for the market. Additionally, I believe that I have found such a strong passion outside of my central pharmaceutical studies. My program director, Dr. Spencer, emphasized that it’s essential to have a passion outside of one’s core studies as it enriches life and gives a unique dimension to one’s interests.
The Dresden Summer Language Program has certainly contributed to significant personal development and growth in providing a greater understanding as to how the United States is viewed by European countries, what contemporary German life and culture is like, and how my German language skills would be able to be advanced. The opportunities offered by the program, Ohio State, TUD, Dresden, and even Germany as a whole allowed for the furtherment of my understanding of the Germanic language and culture, the development of a stronger relationship with myself as well as my peers, the growth in my ability to break out of my comfort zones, the exploration of a historically and culturally unique city as well as many others abroad, and the ability to understand the magnitude in which I may be able to contribute to society. Having resided in a new location, cherished new experiences, developed several lifelong friendships, and having pushed myself outside of my comfort zones has permitted for transformation that is essential to my development and growth as a unique individual in a diverse, global society.