(July 25, 2002, Gazette)
is not a regular occurrence and is still not guaranteed even when it is
fervently wished for. Sometimes, however, a flight of fancy, considered
too unlikely to ever be pulled off, comes true and is better than we had
With that lead-up, what could I be writing about? In keeping with the
topic of the study abroad story penned for this Gazette, I am describing
my own undergraduate study abroad experience, which occurred in August
2001. During that month I studied and lived in Heidelberg, Germany.
In January 2001 I was registered in my last semester as an undergraduate
student. Despite the fact that I would continue with several undergrad
courses post-graduation, completion of this winter semester would permit
me to graduate in May. In early January I decided to act on an idea Id
been debating for a while: starting to learn a third language. I was very
interested in German. With the approval of the professor, I began auditing
the introductory course in addition to my five required courses. As the
term progressed and I continued to thoroughly enjoy the class, I officially
added the course. I would now complete German 1000 for credit.
Now came the germ of another idea, which I almost dismissed as being too
improbable. I knew the German department offered a field school in Heidelberg
each summer. It presented the opportunity to study at an institute whose
mandate was to immerse students in German as a second language. Pictures
of Heidelberg were very enticing. Starting a third language, traveling
to Europe for the first time, learning in an environment where it was
German-only and German everyday, and participating in a program designed
to create the best possible situation for students, the trip to Heidelberg
couldnt have sounded better to me.
Acting on the encouragement of others (I assumed it was too late to apply
and knew I lacked one pre-requisite), I contacted the professor who had
created, and who each year directs the program. To my surprise and delight,
an arrangement was possible whereby, because I would be a degree-holder,
and because I fully intended to learn the required German on my own, I
was granted permission to enroll in the spring semester courses whose
culmination was the month in Heidelberg.
After that, things rolled quickly along. Meetings with the other students
were held; we were briefed on what to expect and what was expected of
us; course work was done amidst a hectic summer job schedule. On July
31, our group flew out of St. Johns, changed planes in Toronto and
landed in sunny, scorching-hot Frankfurt bright and early the next day.
The month in Heidelberg surpassed my expectations for an intensive language
program. We were in class for half-a-day every week day, and then were
free to do as we wished. We were encouraged and invited to participate
in activities designed to acclimate foreign students to the language,
the city, and the culture. My class in the Heidelberger Sprachinstitut
was taught entirely in German. We had been placed in a level best suited
to our abilities by a brief interview and a short written test. We were
expected to keep up with the work assigned by the instructor, but, equally
as important, class time was allotted for light-hearted discussion (or
as light-hearted as possible with our more-often-than-not rudimentary
German!), movies, and songs. Our teacher was Mara, whose first question
each day upon entering into the classroom was resolutely the same: Was
hast du gestern gemacht? What did you do yesterday? Despite our linguistic
fumbles and stammers, and sometimes inordinately long pauses-for-thought,
Mara kept the conversation going and everyone had to speak up. Some students,
having already learned some German, were better than others. Besides the
students from Memorial, I attended class with people from Spain, France
and the Czech Republic amongst other countries. One particular student
was so good in German he not only got his point across during our daily
speaking sessions, he cracked jokes...that we understood! I guess that
says something positive about our level of German as well.
We were all beginners but we all wanted to learn. That was
one of the most positive aspects of this trip. I learned a great deal
while I was there, and speaking faltering German to a new friend from
Japan, who didnt speak English, didnt faze me at all. I remember
one conversation later in the month that could actually be termed fluid;
not fluent mind you, I was only there a month! But the German flowed easily
enough that I knew I had improved.
And Id need another page to write about the wonderful trips we took
on the weekends outside Heidelberg. One highlight is the two days spent
in southern Germany. The train ride alone stands out. The scenery as we
headed to Bavaria could have been used as an image splashed in a glossy
travel magazine to plug Contiki Tours. In fact, it probably is. A group
of us spent a night in the youth hostel in Munich (a hostel that was exceptionally
clean and comfortable), and I continued my trip the next day to the famous,
tourist-swamped and hard-to-pronounce castle, Neuschwanstein. Needless
to say many pictures were taken to record this trip.
If my trip was any indication, studying abroad more than complements an
undergraduate career; studying abroad enriches a degree program and imbues
it with a positive memory. Such an intensive program brings immediate
satisfaction, a sense of true accomplishment and a feeling of confidence.
And the vigorous scholastic schedule we followed in Heidelberg was enhanced
and made more enjoyable by the field trips made after school.
Take advantage of everything your journey abroad offers. If you are like
any of us were in Heidelberg, you wont need much convincing to enjoy
the experience as much as possible, wherever you go. That is not to say
that a study abroad experience will be absolutely without fault, however.
Lets just say my roommate and I became experts at a quick, efficient
two-step method of ridding our residence of unwanted eight-legged creatures.
But did we let that spoil our trip? Of course not! But thats another