St. Augustine–someone all true Petrels who have survived Core should know–once said: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Through Oglethorpe’s International Exchange Partner Program, students like Alex van Zandt ’12 have the opportunity to take the world in, one page at a time.
Alex went to Dortmund, Germany to study Psychology (or “psychologie,” as the Germans call it) at the University of Dortmund. The program allows students to study abroad at partner schools without paying separate tuition to their host school. This means that people like Alex pay Oglethorpe tuition, using whatever financial aid and scholarships they already have—quite the bargain. The “exchange” happens when Oglethorpe takes in a student from Dortmund next semester.
Between his schoolwork, social life, and traveling throughout Europe, Alex had set aside some time to answer a few of my questions…
CM: When I was in Germany a couple of months ago I saw you—you told me you barely understood much German at all. How are the language skills coming?
Alex: My language skills have increased by a great margin, mostly because of the intensive language course taught for one month before actual classes start. I had only taken 3 semesters of German before coming here, and the class wasn’t as strenuous as I would have liked it to be. But now I am constantly exposed to the language through media, street signs, etc. and I take every opportunity to speak German, although it is hard as most everyone likes to speak English more.
CM: What were your first impressions? Were you excited? A little nervous?
Alex: It was very cold. Dortmund had just received a very unusually heavy dose of snow (for March). I wasn’t given time to be nervous when I got there, I immediately met with my Doubles (two students from the university that are assigned to each exchange student in order to act as a guide/friend) and we went around doing errands like getting a heavy jacket for me, a phone, German SIM cards, groceries, etc.
CM: Have you gotten involved in the social scene at all?
Alex: I hang out with one of the other exchange students’ Doubles, and through him have met many other Germans. The other exchange students come from all over America, and during the language course we became acquainted with each other. Also, the ERASMUS program, which is the European exchange program, had several people in my language course, so I get to meet and become friends with people from France, Turkey, Brazil, Korea, etc. We hang out and go to local hotspots, bars, night clubs, music clubs, and recently, to the beautiful parks that are nestled within the city.
CM: What fun things have you done? Any excursions or trips you’ve taken?
Alex: I have been fortunate to have come in the age of cheap transportation, and I have certainly used it. I’ve been to many cities within Germany itself, and I have also been to Czech Republic, Vienna in Austria, and the Netherlands. I am also scheduled to go on trips to Romania and Venice, Italy and I’m planning on going to either Norway or Sweden in conjunction with a trip to Poland. The flexibility afforded to me by my schedule allows me to make several trips, so I still have lots of time with which to plan even more trips.
CM: What is the biggest culture shock? Give me something you were totally not prepared for; it could be good or bad…
Alex: Everything is a culture shock, to be honest. Of course, the early closing times are unusual, everything closes at 8, regardless of what day it is. Almost everything is also closed on Sunday, which is a problem for some things, as even grocery stores are shut down. The cars are of course smaller and almost all of them are standard transmission; I have yet to see an automatic. That being said, I have not been in a car since my first day in country. The public transportation is very well run and there are almost zero complications from going to one place to another.
The semesters are also different from America. The summer semester here is equivalent to our spring semester, except that it runs from the second week of April until the second to last week of July. In addition to the semesters being off center, each class only meets once a week, as opposed to two or three times like in America.
CM: If you could, what would you like to bring back to the States?
Alex: There are a lot of things I want to bring back. Most notably is the soccer atmosphere. I am lucky enough to be less than a 20 or so minute walk from the biggest stadiums in Germany, and attended two games there and another two games in a different stadium nearby. I like football, but the passion and the chants and the action of the soccer matches are truly something special. I of course would love my German friends to come visit me as I have made several very good friends while here. As far as food, there is nothing better than a true Viennese schnitzel.
CM: What’s next?
Alex: I plan on continuing my studies Oglethorpe when I get back while searching for scholarships and internships to return to Germany. Career plans are still in the works depending on where I live, but graduate school is a certainty.