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Friday, December 19, 2014

Global Perspectives: Life in Germany

The Global Perspectives column highlights students who have traveled abroad through UNM’s Global Education Office.

By Joshuah Schultz

The flight to Germany was very long. I am not used to sitting still in one place for that long. I was very excited to be arriving in Germany, and my transfer through customs went really smoothly.

Shortly after arriving, I received a welcome letter from a government official that welcomed me to Bremen and also offered their assistance if needed. I was impressed by their kindness and that they took the time to write to me. Another experience that I was able to participate in took place in Münster.

During my trip, I lived with two host families: one in Radolfzell and another in Bremen.

In Radolfzell I did not actually live in the city; instead, I lived in a small town nearby. The host mom and dad were very nice people and willing to help with anything I needed. My host dad picked me up when I first arrived; because my host mom was out of town that weekend, I did not get to meet her at first for several days.

I had a large room and bathroom all to myself, almost like a small apartment. This had both positives and negatives. I am used to having my own apartment and being alone, but because my host parents were both very busy, and because I am a quiet person, we did not get to interact very much.

I enjoyed having my own small refrigerator, but it was difficult not having a way to cook my own meals. Also I was not able to use their washing machine to wash my clothes; I had to leave the clothes for them to wash when they had time and were washing theirs. I learned real fast to live off sandwiches, carrots and juice, and to wash a couple clothing items at a time in a small sink and then hang them to dry.

My host family provided me with a bike to ride to town, and I was so thankful to have it because even by bike it took me about 40 minutes to get to the language school each day. Unfortunately this made me feel like I was missing out on some of the group activities that came up on the spur of the moment, along with activities that I found out about after I had already gotten back home for the day.

I lived with a nontraditional family in Bremen: a host dad and a host brother from Africa.

Again I liked my room and the house very much, but the best part was cooking and using the kitchen whenever I wanted. My host dad had what he called an “open fridge” so that I could have what I wanted any time. This is a huge benefit since I lost almost 20 pounds the first two months in Germany from all the exercise, travel and bike riding. I was also allowed to use the washing machine any time I wanted to, so no longer needed to wash my clothing in a little sink.

I attended “Hochschule Bremen,” and took Maschinenbau-type (mechanical engineering) classes. Before I arrived in Bremen I was given a buddy from the Maschinenbau department. I found this to be extremely beneficial because she met me at the school on my first day. Maren Stenken gave me a tour and took me with her to one of her classes; she also helped me choose classes to take and introduced me to a few other students.

My teachers were friendly, helpful and relaxed, along with very accepting of me being in this program. The students in my classes were friendly and very curious about me and about life in America.

On several occasions I was invited by a group of classmates to go out to eat for lunch, so they could talk to me and ask questions.

The most difficult parts of going to school in Germany were that my classes were five hours long and my level of German is so low. Sometimes I would sit a long time without understanding anything.

I volunteered for a group called “Afrika ist auch in Bremen” (Africa is also in Bremen) at an event called “Afrikanisch-Deutscher Kongress 2013” (African-German Conference 2013). I helped with the set-up and cleanup of the event along with any other jobs or tasks that I was given which included: setting up chairs and tables, hanging posters, handing out fliers, helping with sound equipment, guarding a changing room and taking surveys.

I really enjoyed my experience doing volunteer work in Germany. Everyone was friendly and helped me to understand what they wanted me to do. I found the experience to be very educational and enjoyed working with a variety of different cultures and their representatives.

The only negatives were that it was cold and that there were a few gaps between activities were you would be standing around for a bit and could get bored, but most of the time there was more than enough to do. I would have loved to have done this job longer and I would definitely do it again. I enjoyed feeling useful and like I was helping to make someone else’s job a little easier. I also met some wonderful people.

In all honesty, I actually wasn’t sure how I would do as a junior ambassador because of the social aspects it involved. Being quiet and shy and more of an introvert than an extrovert, I feel like the social part of this program was one of my biggest challenges, but I believe that we need to try to always improve ourselves even though I am sure I am probably my own worst critic.

Being a junior ambassador means getting out, interacting and getting involved in a community so that you can share your culture as well as learning about another. I may not be the most outspoken person, but I feel that each small group or individual I have come in contact with went away feeling that we made some kind of cultural connection and growth. It is very important to me that, as Americans, we represent our country, the program, and ourselves in a positive way no matter how big or small the interaction is.

I will always be thankful and grateful for the opportunity that was given to me through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Beziehungen (German Council for International Relations) and the Parlamentarisches Patenschafts-Programm (Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange).

Joshuah Schultz is a junior mechanical engineering major and traveled to Germany on an exchange program in 2013.