Friendships Without Borders
How my school’s partnership with a German university gave me more than a study abroad experience
My study abroad trip to Leipzig, Germany in 2013 wouldn’t have been possible without an international partnership that was 20 years in the making.
In the early 1990s, after the reunification of Germany, many academic departments at the University of Leipzig were in a tough spot – including the journalism department. Because Leipzig is located in what used to be East Germany, many of the professors had taught from a communist perspective and were forced out after reunification.
When the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University heard that the University of Leipzig was down to a bare-bones journalism staff, they decided to step in and help rebuild the program. A group of faculty headed to Leipzig to spend some time teaching in the journalism department and training new staff members. It was the beginning of a partnership between OU’s “J-school” and the University of Leipzig that now has continued for more than two decades. Every year since then, groups of students and faculty from both schools have gone back and forth on study abroad and exchange programs to continue the tradition.
I heard about the opportunity to study abroad in Leipzig on the first day of my first year at OU. I was taking the introductory class that was required for all freshman journalism majors and immediately began taking notes when the professor told us about this opportunity. A few months later, I was going to information sessions, filling out my application, and interviewing with the program directors. At the beginning of second semester, I saw the congratulatory email pop up on my phone right as I walked into Spanish class and almost shouted with joy.
I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to be a part of such a strong international partnership and continue the tradition of collaboration between these two great universities. Another really cool effect of this study abroad experience is being able to connect more with the University of Leipzig students who periodically come to spend some time here at OU.
A few weeks ago, the Scripps program welcomed the first group from Leipzig of the school year. I had the chance to meet them when they joined us at our weekly PRSSA meeting that Monday. We’d already been told that they were coming, so I purposely wore my Leipzig soccer team shirt that I got while I was there in order to start a conversation. Sure enough, it worked! One of the girls in the Leipzig group immediately noticed my shirt as we were talking after the meeting, and from there we had a really interesting conversation about my experiences in Leipzig and her experiences in Athens.
Hanging out with the group from Leipzig that night at and after the PRSSA meeting was really interesting because it reminded me of a lot of little German cultural things I’d forgotten about. Two or three of their professors had come overseas with them and were sitting in the back at the meeting. Even before they were introduced, I knew who they were – not because I’d met them before (I hadn’t), but because of how formally they were dressed. In Germany, it’s fairly common for scholarly types such as professors to dress up in academic settings. These guys were wearing suits and ties – I think a lot of us felt underdressed in comparison!
After the meeting, we took our new friends out to dinner at a popular restaurant in uptown Athens. When the German students asked us for recommendations, we Americans all started raving about the burgers and pizza and fried pickles. What did every single one of them get? A soup and salad.
At that point, I remembered one of the most interesting cultural facts I’d forgotten about since my time overseas. Here in the U.S., most people consider dinner to be the “big” meal of the day. In Germany and other European countries such as France, the main meal of the day is traditionally lunch. Although this is changing a bit, it’s still not uncommon for Germans to fill up with a hearty meal during lunch and have what is essentially a glorified snack for dinner. (I’ve heard that this is healthier, because it’s better not to make your body digest a large amount of food before bed, but I’m not an expert.)
In addition to those little cultural differences I recalled, I had a wonderful time getting to know the group from Leipzig during the week they were here. In today’s increasingly connected world, international relationships are more important than ever. The partnership between OU and Uni Leipzig has enabled me to continue making friends from my host city even more than a year after I returned from studying abroad there. I can’t wait to see what new opportunities for international friendship come my way during my last year here at OU.