About My Study Abroad Program
Major/Minor: Environmental Science
Program: IES Abroad Environmental Studies and Sustainability
Location: Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
Term: Fall 2019
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I decided to study abroad after talking with students and friends about their study abroad experiences and how much of an impact it had on them personally and socially, as well as on their education. I wanted to study abroad in order to become a more well-rounded student and individual by experiencing different lifestyle approaches, beliefs, and world views in other countries, and also by learning from other students studying abroad. Having lived only in North Carolina my whole life, I wanted to experience something completely different that would broaden my horizons. I chose to study abroad in Freiburg, Germany through the IES Environmental Studies and Sustainability program. My advisor, Dr. Gangi, is a strong admirer of the environmental and cultural aspects of the city, and recommended this program to me. Freiburg is known as the “Green City” for its excellence in transportation, energy, waste management, and land use. As an environmental science major, this program had the most appeal to me because it would allow me to understand the systemic, social, and economic aspects of a sustainable city and lifestyle, which information I could bring back to the United States.
What did you learn about yourself?
While abroad, I became more aware of who I am as an individual. Some things were small, such as comparing different home life experiences as one of the few people in my program from the South. The biggest lesson I learned was that I am more capable than I previously gave myself credit for. Before leaving for Germany, I had flown alone only once, on a short flight in the United States. Right from the start, I became more confident just from being able to navigate the airport, train stations, and local public transit systems, something that had never been my strong suit. Other day-to-day experiences, such as learning to communicate with locals with my limited proficiency in German, grocery shopping, and cooking by myself for the first time, slowly boosted my confidence. Since being home, I find myself being more proactive in applying for positions and jobs, or trying new things. I understand that although I may make a mistake or things might not turn out the way I want, it is part of a personal learning experience that will work out in the end.
What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
The Münster is the cathedral in the main square of Freiburg with a 380 foot bell tower. The Münster survived World War II bombings and is one of the oldest historic sites in Freiburg. The cathedral is constantly under construction in order to preserve the 800 year old structure and exterior. There is a daily market at the Münster where vendors from around the city and region sell their produce, flowers, handcrafted goods, and fresh cooked sausages. On a rare sunny day in November, some of my friends and I decided to climb the Münster bell tower, which is open to the public. We climbed 333 steps to see a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. Halfway up the tower is a small gift shop that sells souvenirs, where I stopped to buy postcards so I could tell my friends and family that I climbed the Münster. My friends and I thereafter continued to the top in a tight spiral stairwell. Lining the top of the tower was beautiful stonework forming giant glassless window panes and detailed stone designs forming the cone of the tower. We looked out over the gorgeous view of the city that sits alongside the Black Forest. The picturesque views made me appreciate the historical, charming city on a new level that I gratefully called home for several months.
What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
My advice for future study abroad students is to be okay with things not always being okay. It is likely that you will get lost a few times, order the wrong thing because you cannot read the menu or the waitress misunderstood you, be unable to efficiently communicate with someone, or make a full itinerary for a trip but not have time to do everything you wanted. It is difficult to adjust to the norms of a new city when everything is unknown. However, being humble enough to know that a mistake is not going to ruin your day, week, or trip allows you to move on and enjoy new experiences. The semester will fly by, so it is important to not dwell on a bad restaurant or missing the tram you were supposed to take; rather, take a step back and appreciate this once in a lifetime endeavor.
Would you do it again?
I would unquestionably study abroad again, and I miss Freiburg on a daily basis. The experience was more meaningful and memorable than I could have ever imagined, and saying goodbye to my city and my new friends seemed harder than leaving my home for the first year of college. Before I studied abroad, I found it surprising when other students who had studied abroad told me it was a life changing experience. I thought they were exaggerating in order to convince me to do it. However, what I learned about environmental topics from my classes and peers, about German culture, and about myself, as well as the great new friendships I made, are so unique and priceless. Since I have been back, whenever my underclassmen friends ask me about my semester, I have only positive things to say, and encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities here at UNC to study abroad.
How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at UNC?
As is the style of most German university classes, my classes were formatted with a focus on class discussion and frequent student presentations. As opposed to most of my courses at UNC, which are more oriented towards the professor conducting most or all of the lecture information, German courses are more oriented towards group work and students teaching each other. I found this class formatting to be much more interactive and engaging, and it resulted in me having better relations with my professors and peers. I felt much more included in the classroom, as opposed to feeling I was just sitting in a large lecture where few students talk throughout the class period. I hope that as I continue to take more specific, smaller sized classes at UNC, I will have similar experiences to that in Germany.