Name: Emily Van Rossum
Majors: Democracy and Justice Studies/Spanish
Year in School: Sophomore
Program: Semester at IUSP Phillips Univerität Marburg, Germany Spring 2017
Why did you choose to study abroad?
I have been dreaming about studying abroad my entire life, since I was about 5 years old. I did not know exactly where I wanted to go, but I knew it would be in Europe. My mother had studied abroad in England, and my father had spent some time in Germany as well, so they were very supportive in my spending a semester here. The UW system has a great study abroad program, which was a quality I valued when looking at attending college. I had also grown up to know that living in a different country will bring countless benefits to your future life, so I continually worked towards setting up my academic plan in such a way that I could have time to fit this into my curriculum. Starting early has paid off in my case, because I’m not behind in credits, and am actually still on track to graduating on time.
Why did you choose to go where you did?
Many people have been surprised that I chose to study in a German city when I am earing my degree in the Spanish language. I chose Marburg for a few reasons. First, I wanted to explore the most of Europe that I could during my time abroad. There is rarely another period like this in life that will allow you to travel to so many places in such limited time. Germany is centrally located in Europe, which warrants many opportunities for adventure. I have a strong German and Dutch heritage, so curiosity about where I came from also influenced my choice.
What did you struggle with?
The university itself is spread out all over the city, with buildings by the cafeteria, and also right across from Elisabethkirche, the church of Marburg’s patron saint. This might seem very daunting when coming from a school where all of the buildings are connected by tunnels, but I found that locating everything took a relatively short period of time. It’s similar to being a freshmen all over again. One of the struggles has been learning the bus system, but getting lost sometimes leads to finding new adventures; not always a bad thing.
Another personal struggle has been not knowing the language. I do have a language course I am taking here, and we learn a lot of helpful information, like how to navigate the German culture, words or phrases to order in restaurants, and what to look for when in a train or bus station. It takes a little time to adjust hearing German everywhere, but I have found that when I return to Marburg after being in a different country for a weekend trip, all the German sounds perfectly normal, even if I can’t understand the majority of it.
How has studying abroad personally help you?
Surprisingly, my time abroad has actually helped with my homesickness. I am one of those people that loves to stay in bed and watch movies all day, but being in Germany has helped me be more outgoing. I don’t have a TV in my room, so I find that I am going out more, taking weekend trips, and doing my homework in a different building, which helps me not to think about home so much. Of course I miss my family and loved ones, but I know they will be waiting for me as soon as I step off the plane in Wisconsin. My mission is to enjoy my time here and bring back amusing stories to tell. And to study of course.
What is your favorite experience studying abroad?
My favorite experience in Germany so far has been visiting a blind cafe. Here in Marburg they have a special school for blind students, and the city itself is tailored to assisting them in leading independent lives. The bus stops have audible schedules, the sidewalk has specific ridges on it so indicate where a walking path is, and the crosswalks will all make a noise to signal that it’s safe to cross the street.
In an attempt to bring awareness to regular people who have their sight, there is a blind cafe in which the dining experience is done totally in the dark. The waiters are blind, and there is not one shred of light that helps you see your food. I had apple pie and ice cream when I went, and used my hands more than I used utensils to eat my food. It truly gave the feeling of not having any sight at all, and how it must feel like to navigate everyday tasks without being able to see.
What advice do you have for those who want to study abroad?
My first piece of advice for anyone planning to study abroad is to always be open: open to meeting new people, open to eating new foods, or open to listening to opposing views someone may have. Be open to finding a new bus when yours is not on time, and open to the new university system. Second thing is always have wet wipes. They come in handy more often than you think, and it is always good to have some on you. Three, there is never a shortage of German bakeries, and life is too short to not go and enjoy all of them.
I cannot wait to get back to America and see how much I really have changed without realizing it. Besides there being obvious differences in the language and the way the university is set up, I know I have habits that have been modified. For example, Germans usually only buy groceries for one or two days, never a huge cart full, and the stores are not open 24/7. I have now gotten in the habit of buying food for only a few days in advance, so I anticipate feeling a subtle difference at home. However I have changed though, I know that I will always look back at this adventure with great appreciation for such an amazing semester.