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October 22, 1999 - Image 17

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1999-10-22

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12B - The Michigan Daily - Weekend, etc. Magazine - Thursday, Obtober 28, 1999
American in Europe combines vacation with 30 credits


The Michiganiy - Weekend, etc.

Students prepare for foreign turf, expande

By Jacob Wheeler
Daily Staff Writer
FREIBURG, Germany - Here at
the "Greiffenegg" Biergarten,
perched atop "Schlossberg", the
highest vantage point in greater
Freiburg, the American college stu-
dents sit on picnic tables gulping
their half-liter "Heferweizens" and
munch on warm "Brezels" ( German
pretzels) because the hot, Southern
German sun reminds them that it's
still too early in the day to drink
It's 11:30 a.m. on a Monday in
mid-spring and, back home in the
United States, that's also too early
in the week to drink alcohol: The
refreshing wheat beer would be
overshadowed by chemistry assign-
ments or frantic preparations for the
outspokenly tough Michigan
But for Americans studying
abroad in Europe, weekly home-
work assignments are no obstacle.
They know that the German univer-
sitv system stresses one exam or one
term paper which is due at the end
of the semester, and sometimes one
oral class presentation - but no
busywork that locks students in the
graduate library until 4 in the morn-
ing, five nights a week.
The students face obstacles, of
course. Tuning into lectures given
by quick-tongued intellectuals in a
foreign language nearly brings them
to tears. And seeking out the sabbat-
ical-minded professors, who never
seem to hold office hours because
their students have no timeline to
graduate, can be frustrating on a
daily basis.
But that's the kind of attitude that
makes university life such a cultural
experience for young Europeans.
They're told to take whatever cours-
es they deem necessary to prepare
them for a final examination in a
given subject - usually seven or

eight years after they begin their
studies. Time isn't the enemy of
neo-renaissance Europeans.
Time isn't the enemy of these
Michigan students either, enjoying a
year-abroad program in a historical-
ly Medieval town at the base of the
Black Forest.
Time is a concern, though. In
super-punctual and preservationist
Europe, time is almost the honorary
fifth member of the natural ele-
ments: earth, wind, fire, water ...
and time, appearing every 15 min-
utes whenever the numerous clock
towers all over Freiburg chime to
each others' melodies. The chime is
a warning to those walking down a
peaceful cobblestone street: Watch
Here comes a "Strassenbahn"
(street car), and order is momentar-
ily interrupted as bikers, pedestrians
and pigeons jump out of the way of
oncoming public transportation-
something foreign in most of the
United States. Only the "Baechle,"
the small, peaceful streams running
along many pedestrian lanes, keep
flowing normally. The Strassenbahn
passes by within moments and
Europe resumes its normal, relaxed
The American students have
missed their streetcar but it's no
problem. Another one will be com-
ing along in 10 minutes. The only
things on their minds now are mak-
ing it to the grocery store before it
closes for a mid-day break (stores in
Europe always close for an hour or
two in the early afternoon to give
the workers a lunch break).
Well, to be fair, they just might be
busy planning their next long week-
end trip to Prague or Barcelona. A
weekend is not a long time for a
vacation, but almost any location in
Europe is reachable within a day
because of the continent's reliable
train system.

By Nicole Pearl
Weekend, Etc. Editor
Bring it on! After settling into the
collegiate lifestyle, bursting with "Go
Blue" spirit and Diag days galore,
some students choose to trade in their
books on world cultures for the
chance to experience a foreign city
first-hand: Study abroad.
But in the process of packing duffel
bags, students' anxieties about what
to bring (including the type of mental
attitude and physical necessities) can
become overwhelming.
To prepare students for their study
abroad adventures, Dr. Jordan
Pollack, assistant director of the
Office of International Programs
(OIP) said, "We supply students with
as much information as we usefully
can for each of our programs."
Equipped to satisfy students' curiosi-
ties about their programs abroad, OIP
provides students with handbooks
containing information specific to
each destination. Ranging from
health services to local conditions
and academic concerns to travel tips
on cultural adjustments, and so on,
the study abroad guides are effective
resources to support and educate the
students with practical and important
LSA junior Kelsey Cameron is a
peer advisor in the OIP and a former
study abroad student. Often ques-
tioned by students about how she felt
before traveling overseas, Cameron
said, "One thing that made me feel
prepared to go was attending the ori-
entation program here. Before leav-
ing. I also came into the office and
read students' evaluations of their
programs, and read about the country
before I went."
Even after all the research and flip-

ping through pictures, there still
remains a blind spot when it comes to
imagining what it will really be like in
another country. After making the
decision to go abroad next semester
to Paris, LSA Junior, Lisa Berlow
said, "My biggest worry is that I don't
know what to expect, so I feel like
I'm walking into something blind."
Aware that living in another's reali-
ty can be scary, Pollack said, "Fear is
something you'll overcome and it's
normal to be afraid because you're
going into a situation of uncertainty."
But the intimidation is often coupled
with a gradual accumulation of
Pollack added, "Study abroad is a
'let your hair down' kind of experi-
ence, and that's when you'll feel
you've exposed yourself to alternate
forms of living, and they make you
reflect on things you've previously
taken for granted; and from that
effective process, you grow."
To protect oneself from falling hard
into an unfamiliar culture, students
should pad themselves by "going into
it with an open mind and know things
will be different," said Andrea
Gomez, an LSA senior who went to
South Africa last semester.
Prospective applicants take note:
Studying abroad means- living in a
world that is not like the Un.ited
States. Hot water (for more than two
minutes), single bedrooms and
American TV might be considered
luxuries for those living in some
Adjusting is a challenge for all stu-
dents. Upon arrival, students begin to
adapt to their new surroundings
immediately; getting over the time-
change and understanding the local
colloquialisms help stem some of the

confusion, but adjustment occurs over
a period of time. Pollack believes,
"Adjustment usually takes place fairly
quickly and confidence grows with
each day. Depending on the individ-
ual, adjustment depends on your atti-
tude and coping skills you've devel-
oped as you've matured."
Some tactics that help students feel
closer to their native homes are to
bring along favorite CDs or paper-
backs, to stop. in a McDonalds every
so often for some greasy American
grub and to participate in program
activities such as taking in a tourist
After a few weeks, the newness dis-
solves and a routine begins to devel-
op. Cameron knew London felt like
her second home when, "I started get-
ting irritated at the tourists." Many
students' insecurities subside once
they feel more independent and get
into the groove of going to class, nav-
igating through the city and communi-
cating better with the natives. LSA
senior Todd Benson, who went to
Spain, said, "I didn't know what to
expect my first night out. I went to a
discoteca, and by 8 a.m. the next
morning, Spaniards were still partying
and waiting in lines to get into after-
bar clubs. It took time for some of the
Americans to keep up with the night,
life, but it was great being exposed to
such a laid-back and fun culture."
Eventually, wherever one chooses
to study abroad, once unfamiliar
cities become surrogate homes. And
the student's attitude is key, according
to Pollack. To take full advantage of
the study abroad experience, he has a
prescription for students: "Go intel-
lectually hungry, go modest, and go
there looking to find out how other
people get about their business."

A Parisian street vendor prepai
something new. That's only the
A2X More Digit

courtesy of Jacob WHeeler
Weekend treks to Paris are no big deal for students studying In Europe. Travelling becomes one of many exciting hobbies.

These students are experiencing
what some would call year-long
vacations. The pressure points of
culture shock are past conquests for
them - the grueling jet lag upon
arrival, the frustrating language bar-
rier before they were confident
enough to speak German with resi-
dent strangers, the bureaucracy of
picking classes at a new university
in a new country and, of course, the
dwindling service hours at grocery

Yet they're actually knocking off
a year of college by studying - and
traveling when time allows -
through Europe, this continental
microcosm of different landscapes,
different languages and different
cultures, separated sometimes by
only a few kilometers.
Freiburg, for instance, lies about
half an hour away from Switzerland
and 40 minutes away from France.
You can buy a bottle of French
wine, a loaf of hearty German bread
and a bar of Swiss chocolate for
under 10 Deutschmarks (about
Robert Howell, a German profes-
sor at the University of Wisconsin in
Madison and the current resident
director of the Wisconsin-led
Academic Year in Freiburg (AYF)
program - in which Michigan stu-
dents take part annually - prefers
year-long programs to shorter pro-
"The major trend over the past
decade has been half-year programs
(one semester) because students are
often not willing or financially able
to spend an entire year abroad. Only
about 14 percent of all study-abroad
programs now are full-year pro-
grams and ours is indeed an II-
month program," Howell said.
Howell argued that it takes a
while for students to get used to a
new culture and a new school sys-
"We want our students to experi-
ence firsthand the life.of a German
university student. In order to
achieve that the students have to be

here for an entire year because it's
only after the first semester that
they really begin to see how things
work and their linguistic skills are
developed enough to participate
fully in German seminars. Students
say almost without exception after
the first semester that they're just
barely getting into it."
Howell, an American, teams with
native German Sabine Habermalz to
facilitate the AYF program. Their
responsibilities: Lead American stu-
dents through the paperwork, help
them pick courses, find places for
them to live and introduce them to
all the difficulties students face in a
foreign land. Their transcontinental
sensibility creates a bridge which
makes it easier for AYF students to
settle into the German culture for a
"With the AYF program you have
an office, you're never alone, you
have complete liberties, but you
also have the help if you want it,"
Habermalz said. "The cord that
exists between students and their
parents when, they're in the vicinity
is cut when you study abroad."
Habermalz, who once studied
abroad herself in Madison (the
home of the University of
Wisconsin is a sister city of
Freiburg's), glows when she
describes the character transforma-
tions which students go through
when they study abroad.
"I've seen the way students
change during .a year- abroad,"
Habermalz said. When they first
arrive they're shy, they're tired. As



Courtesy of Jacob Wheeler
. This student enjoys a relaxed moment during her year abroad but doesn't quite measure up to this downtown Rome landmark.

See GERMANY, Page 138

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