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Finally going home - Germany reloaded

It is not often we get an American exchange student who speaks fluent German, but it is even rarer that a US exchange student considers studying abroad in Germany as “going home”. Megan Grace, Athletic Training student from San Diego State University, is one of those rare creatures. Her mother is a nurse in the US military and so Megan spent “the important years” as she calls them, from age 8 to 15, just outside of Heidelberg and Kaiserslautern. »I did most of my growing up in Germany«, she tells us, »I give Germany the credit for raising me.«

A German childhood

Megan’s start in Germany as a child wasn’t easy, as she spoke no German, but her elementary school teacher with the wonderful name of Frau Schremser-Magens, got her settled in and on track. She even helped Megan be so successful, that she got a recommendation for grammar school, which is quite an achievement. »The first years were a great lesson in surviving in a foreign culture and finding friends when you don’t speak the same language«, she remembers. Her love of soccer was a great way to meet new people and she played from the age of four all through school in Germany. »I always had soccer when things were hard. There is always a special bond with teammates.« Going back to America was the biggest culture shock of her life. She was the “German girl” and her new schoolmates in Texas didn’t always make it easy for her. »It was strange to come back to the US and to be made to feel like a foreigner«, she remembers. »It made me appreciate what other people go through and I definitely feel more empathy for others because of it.«

Studying abroad in Hamburg

After joining the Athletic Training programme at San Diego State University (SDSU) Megan started to look for options to study abroad and come back to Germany. She chose Hamburg because the classes were most relevant to her studies but with a focus on nutrition they would also give her an insight into new areas. Her favourite class was “Scientific Ergonomics”, as it was very hands-on with regular lab work and most applicable to what she was studying at SDSU. Classes also included scientific article analysis and she enjoyed the research elements and the small literature reviews and can imagine focusing more on that in the future. Most students in the “Nutrition & Health” classes name “German Food & Culture” as their favourite class, but when we asked her about this, she laughed and said »My memories of that class are of boiling liver and stirring it for three hours, trying to turn it into some sort of dish from Nordrhein-Westfalen.«

She finds the smaller classes in Hamburg slightly more intimate than at home, but a professor talking for three hours at a time was quite a challenge. »It has been an interesting experience. Before I had the attention span of a dog; you lost me after 30 minutes«, she says, laughing, »but I have learned to participate more in class and that has helped to focus my attention for longer.« Another challenge is the lack of mid-terms and assignments in Germany, as a way of gauging how she is getting on. »I never thought I would say I miss homework. I hate assignments at home, but I miss them here«, she smiles.

Germany reloaded

Being back in Germany has triggered her German and she has found it very easy to get back into speaking and understanding. Sometimes she comes out with words and wonders herself where they come from. She helps other exchange students to improve their German and professors, when they are lost for an English translation in class, and enjoys conversations with local students who share her student apartment. It is not surprising that her first thought, when she applied for Hamburg was “I am finally going home”.

While Megan is not a big fan of the Hamburg weather (note: the winter was particularly long this year), she loves the city for its diversity and because she sees it as a melting pot of old and new. She also loves being part of the large international group of exchange students at the HAW Hamburg. »I have never been exposed to so many different nationalities and cultures«, she says, and adds, »not just as part of the group, but also on my travels. During my semester I went to Budapest, Barcelona, The Netherlands, Belgium, and revisited my absolute favourite city, Paris.«

Lessons learned and next steps

Born in Kansas, Megan has lived in Tennessee, Utah, Georgia, Illinois, Germany and Texas before moving to San Diego, so it is not surprising that she is someone who is happiest when she is moving around. Studying abroad has shown her that she can live on her own and be responsible for everyday life and its challenges, which she sees as an important lesson. When she graduates she hopes to work for a sport’s team at international level and see the world – maybe with the German women’s football team?

 

iw / July 2017

Letzte Änderung: 04.08.17

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