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Melissa Marcus

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Anthropology Major/Classical Humanities Minor
Program: Freie Universität Berlin European Studies Program (FU-BEST)
Location: Berlin, Germany
Term: Fall 2021


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
It has been a goal of mine to study abroad since before I started university. I was torn between Asia and Europe -- Asia, because there are so many distinctly different cultures that I find fascinating, and Europe, because my family hails from Eastern Europe but has lost all cultural ties, which I find quite sad and wanted to try to... if not reconnect with entirely, at least experience a taste and understanding of what few ties remain, and understand those that were lost. With covid-19 closing down the eastern borders, I decided it would be safest to go to Germany, which has a relatively open status and high vaccination rates compared to other countries. I also loved that it was about European studies, which UNC doesn't have a dedicated major for. Finally, I've always desired to be a polyglot, and now thanks to the program I'm one step into German to achieving my goal.


What did you learn about yourself?
That I can do things on my own. I'll be honest, I'm a sheltered youngest child. I don't /do/ things on my own at home, and even at university I rely on my friends a lot. Part of it is just a side effect of living in a country where you are essentially hopeless without a car, and not... owning a car. Part of it is just that I never had to rely only on myself for anything beyond academia. Being so many timezones away, in a country where I barely spoke the language, in a continent across the ocean (with good public transportation, it must be said) -- it made me rely on myself more than I ever had before. And I realized that I could do it. I stepped up to the occasion, and when I had problems, I could still seek help. But I did it by myself. I did serious solo travel and didn't spend every moment fearful for my life. I talked with strangers in broken German. I scaled the Alps! It was like suddenly, I realized I'm a capable human being in my own right.


What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
Hard question! There's so many moments, but I think my favorite was the moment I realized that I had finally, finally found 'my group'. We were in Hamburg for a field trip, and had been going to and fro neighboring cities all day. United only by chance, we had nonetheless hit it off quite well. But by the time we got back to Hamburg we were exhausted and starving, and set our eyes on the first convenient pizza parlor that crossed our path. "It's Europe," we thought to ourselves, "So the portion sizes are probably going to be smaller." So we buy five pizzas, one for each of us. Imagine our surprise when the portion sizes were BIGGER than American ones. We went to a park, sat down on some steps, and chowed down five pizzas over the course of the evening. We spent hours there, just eating and loitering (it's legal in Germany!), and having a magnificent time. After that, we were inseparable.


What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
You will never be able to predict how you will react to unexpected situations -- and that's a good thing. It teaches you things about yourself you never even thought about. Once, I got asked by this old lady for directions... in German, which I barely speak. I was mortified. Barely a month later, I found myself in a country where I didn't speak the language /at all/, didn't know absolutely anyone, had never been in before, and to make matters worse, my phone data died. Logically, I should have been terrified. In reality, I treated it all like a big adventure, complete with guiding myself by reading an actual map. It was delightful. (I still feel awkward about that old lady). Studying abroad puts you in situations where you begin to realize just what it is you're made of. You realize what you cherish in people, cultures, and locations. You learn new things, and realize that maybe, you still have to work on others. But that's fine. It's just part of life.


How do you identify?
First Generation College Student, Scholarship Recipient


Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?
I had saved up all of my work-study money to do study abroad -- but realized I didn't have to do that because my scholarships covered it. It was a relief -- I used those funds for personal travel instead!


Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
UNC is kinder to low-income students than appears at first glance.


If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?
The program, my friends, my family, and the UNC study abroad office. I didn't have any identity-related challenges abroad, but I did have health issues that the program helped me with.