The Land of Opportunity Redefined: A Study Abroad Interview
Here in the U.S., “people have a very positive attitude about making things happen.”
Some of the best things about studying abroad are the extraordinary friendships you make along the way. If you’re lucky, you may have a chance to connect once again with those friends after returning from study abroad. This was the case with me and my friend Julia, who I met last summer while studying abroad in Leipzig, Germany.
Julia and I got paired up to work on a project together while I was on my study abroad trip, but we quickly became good friends. And because my school, Ohio University, has had an international partnership with the University of Leipzig for more than 20 years, it worked out that we could reconnect even after I came back to the U.S. Julia is spending a semester abroad here at my campus in Athens, OH, and I thought it would be especially interesting to compare our experiences studying abroad in each others’ home countries. While sitting down for lunch one afternoon at Bagel Street Deli in uptown Athens, I talked with her about her experiences and impressions on life in the U.S.
Why did you choose this study abroad location?
I decided to study abroad in Athens because my school has an exchange program and the scholarship is pretty decent. So financially, there was a big incentive. And I study American Studies, so it made sense for me to study abroad in the U.S. So far Athens has been very wintery , but I got Netflix, so that was taking over my life for a little bit (laughs). I also like that the university students can use a lot of the facilities for free. I like to go swimming in the aquatic center, that’s great. The bars are fun on the weekends and [I like] just hanging out with people.
How do you live like a local in your study abroad city?
I live at the University Commons [apartment complex] like a lot of people from OU and I talk to people who are from here. I go to class and I buy stuff at Walmart, and I go to the bars.
One thing I noticed in Germany was that the bar culture seemed to be big over there as well. What are some of the biggest differences you’ve seen with the bars here on campus?
The whole bar culture is definitely different. In Germany it’s a little more laid back than here. Here, it’s like, getting drunk quickly because everything closes at two, whereas in Germany bars close when no more people are there. And then [here in the U.S.], after two, if you want to do something else, you have to go to someone’s house. And in Germany, you might go to a club and dance [after leaving the bar].
What was the most amazing cultural experience you’ve experienced so far?
Free water [at restaurants]. Free water is pretty great (laughs). I went to a basketball game, I’d never been to one before. It’s sort of a U.S. thing, to make sports a huge event. There are all these sponsored things that happen at the breaks, and all the merchandise associated to the university seems to be a huge thing. [Here] there’s a shop in Baker [University Center] and merch shops on Court Street, and you have all these different tshirts and sweaters, and it’s huge. Everyone has them, and that’s something we don’t have. We have our University of Leipzig hoodies and tshirts but nobody ever really buys them because they’re so expensive. If you have them as a student, it’s because they came free with some sort of event or something. The whole sort of pride thing is very interesting. That’s big.
How has this Study Abroad impacted on your personal growth?
I’d studied abroad before, I spent a year in Canada when I was 16, and that was a great growing experience because it was my first time away from home and out of my comfort zone. So I feel in terms of that, not much has changed. But this time is different because I have to take care of a lot more stuff myself. I was with a host family in Canada, so they took care of a lot of stuff for me, and now I have to find my own apartment and register with the university, register the courses and get tuition sorted out, because no one has a clue here. I have to explain my situation constantly. It’s sort of all this administrative stuff you have to do that is super, super annoying but that you have to take care of. And so I think that teaches you a lot about taking responsibility and not leaving these things so that they grow into a problem, and stepping up in that way.
What’s the biggest cultural difference you’ve noticed here in the U.S.?
I like the sort of “can-do” spirit of the U.S. In Germany, if you have an idea, people immediately think of the things that can go wrong. And I feel like here, some people are like, “These are the things that can go wrong,” but that’s a minority. Most people are like, “Oh, all right. How can we make that happen? Here’s what you need to do, this is what you need to think about.”
Can you give a personal example of how this “can-do” attitude has expanded your way of thinking?
I’m taking this online news development class, which is sort of like entrepreneurial journalism, which is great because that’s basically exactly what I want to do later. I eventually want to have my own [company]: maybe a production company, maybe a news company, something like that. I want to do my own thing, and I feel like in Germany, that really isn’t encouraged. Whereas here, I feel like I have ten times more ideas because I feel like I can, I’m allowed to. I don’t know if that’s strange, but I like that a lot. Taking charge like that is the biggest thing with personal growth. I feel like I’ve grown in that way.
What advice/tips would you give to other German/European students like yourself who are thinking about studying abroad, particularly here in the U.S.?
Just do it. Studying abroad in the U.S., for us, is a bit more of a pain than studying abroad in Europe. There’s a lot more that you have to take care of, like to get your visa, to get your funding. Studying in Europe is much cheaper for us as well, so [here] you have to take care of getting a stipend and paying for a visa. But these are things that sort of help you grow. And trying to [obtain] work here is even harder than just trying to study, so if you have your eye on the US as a place where you want to spend some time, then maybe a study abroad program here is a better idea because it’s easier than trying to get a work visa to live here. Then, maybe you can establish some connections that’ll help you. Also, this is the land of opportunity. It’s great. People have a very positive attitude about making things happen.
Do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share about your experience?
The U.S. is a huge, huge country, so my experience here [in Athens, Ohio] would be different from someone who studied in Miami, or someone who’s up in Washington, or someone who’s in California or Texas. Everyone’s experience will be different depending on where they go. Mine is pretty awesome.