Beek, a German and premedicine double major at the University of Minnesota, studied in Salzburg, Austria. Thompson, a German education major at Concordia College, studied in Jena, Germany, located 20 minutes east of Weimar.
Both students agree that learning German in the American classroom can’t compare to living in a German-speaking country. Despite years of German instruction, both felt that their language skills needed to improve.
“I can learn German at Concordia, but I thought it would be more fun to learn the language immersed in the culture and people,” Thompson said. “I felt I owed it to the kids [I will one day teach].”
Beek said, “I knew it was something I wanted to do. You need a year there to get over the culture shock and to get integrated.”
Both found the experience to be extremely rewarding, not only for learning about other cultures, but also for gaining a new perspective on American culture.
“We were bombarded with the Ameri-can culture over there,” Beek said. She and Thompson said they were often stereotyped for being Americans.
“Many assume we’re all superficial,” Thompson said. He said other stereo-types of Americans include a society of high crime, that everyone loves country music, that there is no culture or tradition and that everyone does drugs and is fat.
Thompson said that he and a friend from Ireland were attacked by German right-wing extremists on a train just two weeks after being in the country.
“It wasn’t really a major deal, but for two weeks I was completely scared to say anything in public,” he said.
Thompson said that being in a choir and meeting many friendly people who took them into their homes while touring helped alleviate his fear.
“I met some very special people,” he said.
Beek and Thompson agreed that some Europeans love all Americans and some hate all Americans.
A highlight for Thompson was visiting his former home in Berlin. He lived on an American military base there with his family from the ages of two to five.
“I remembered it a little. I saw our apartment and where we went to church,” Thompson said.
Beek and Thompson took advantage of opportunities to visit other European countries. Beek visited Germany, Italy and Hungary, while Thompson visited Austria, Ireland, Poland and his fiancé in Crete, while she studied there for five months. Beek and Thompson also visited each other twice in Munich.
Thompson and Beek noticed a difference in the amount of national pride between Austria, Germany and the United States. Thompson read in a magazine article that Germans were almost always ranked the lowest among countries polled for the amount of national pride among citizens. Ireland, Austria and the United States were always ranked in the top three, he said.
“I saw more American flags my first three days back in the States than I saw German flags my entire year there,” Thompson said.
Beek and Thompson say they would like to go back to Europe.
“I would like to go to Germany for six months to a year before medical school,” Beek said.
Thompson said, “I don’t know when, but I would like to go back to keep up on the language and to keep in contact with friends.”
Both students recommend studying abroad to anyone planning to major in a language.
“You learn so much,” Thompson said. “You realize that there are people on the other side of the world living their own lives.”
Beek said, “It was a complete growing experience.”
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