Let me start by introducing myself, and give a little background as to why I chose to study abroad, why I chose Germany, et cetera:
Hi, all. My name is Jake Elkins. I am a 19-year-old math and physics major from essentially just down the road–Birmingham, AL. I grew up as a die-hard Alabama fan, as my mother is an alumna. She embodies many of our University’s wonderful ideals; she is intelligent, persistent, and always questioning–ideals which were passed on to myself and my three siblings via homeschooling until my 7th grade year. I have been instilled with a passion for history, mathematics, science, and any learning to make myself a better person, all of which I knew and hoped would be augmented by an international experience.
However, with all of my family in the near vicinity, I just never got a chance or a reason to ever leave the Deep South, much less the country. until March, the farthest I had ever been from the state of Alabama had been to West Lafayette, Indiana to visit a university there. To be honest, I didn’t really care to leave the South. I love it here. The good, the bad, the food, the weather–I love it all. I quickly realized a trip abroad would have to be funded by myself, on my own time.
As high school pushes on, I somehow quickly found myself near the top of the pile academically. I worked hard enough to be deemed a National Merit Finalist, and soon came to the realization that Mama had called–I was headed to the University of Alabama. There was no other place for me. This decision was the X factor in taking me abroad, which is why I mention it altogether. The stipend from this scholarship, as well as a few others, allowed me the chance to grow myself with an international experience. I am truly grateful to the University of Alabama for this opportunity.
So, great, I am definitely going to take my opportunity to go abroad. Where? Which program type am I looking for? How long? Will it fit my schedule? These queries were bouncing around my head for a solid year or more. The place of interest was unmovable–Deutschland. Germania. Germany.
Growing up, I was always inspired by my mother to learn from nature as aforementioned, so naturally the stars and space captivated me–but this was a captivation far exceeding anything else I experienced. I quickly realized this was my dream. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of America in space knows one key name–Wernher von Braun, the famous German-American rocket scientist to develop the Saturn V to put Americans on the moon. Von Braun was one of an entire team of German rocket scientists to engineer our space program. When discussing famous Germans in science and technology, of course Albert Einstein and Max Planck come to mind. I also mentioned a love of history, and my favorite subject is World War II (a time and conflict I believe that will never be equaled). Couple all of these with the famous “German engineering” of great German companies, I naturally had to study Germany and her society and geography. I quickly realized I had to see this land that so many great (and not so great) people loved and called home for myself.
My one complication was that I had landed an internship for the summer, so I knew the odds of me working both a study abroad to Germany and an internship were low. I also needed credit for an extra Honors college class, and also a Humanities credit, so my goal was to knock those out as well. An Honors college humanities study abroad program to Germany that would also allow an internship in the same summer? No shot. Alas! The stars align. I suddenly found the perfect program after a quick search on the study abroad website. All of my criteria were met, and even better–I get to go with a German theologian from our Honors college–Dr. Thomas Herwig. I was sold.
Fast forward to the weeks, months before the trip. I was racking my brain on what to expect out a 3 week crash course of Germany, which included us visiting France for a day and essentially doing an entire circle around the country–with almost everyday jam-packed with awesome activities, museums, talks, and tours.
The main feeling I experienced in the time leading up to the trip was one of overwhelming excitement. How could I not be excited? I will never get to see the country like this again. Couple this with my never having left the South, except for a quick snowboarding trip to Wyoming–a crazy feeling of excitement and nerves of planes, international travel, the language, and the academics. My main expectation for this trip was just to learn a lot about Germany (obviously), and to propagate those things towards more general, international terms–the language, the history, how they view America(ns), using new currency, how big the world is, the ins and outs of their daily lives, the geography, et cetera. I would definitely learn these things–but oh would I learn others. I never accounted for what this trip would show me about myself.
I prepared by doing basic German via the app Duolingo (highly recommend!), via a few German grammars and phrase lists I picked up from the SupeStore. You definitely need the basic “hello”, “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, “where is the ____”, and any other basic phrases you know you’ll use time and time again. I would recommend going beyond that though, so that during your trip, you can look at signs/advertisements/menus and know enough to start studying the word usage. That’s how you learn the language very quickly. And it’s fun! Who doesn’t want to know how to read the signs in Germany?
I also read a TON of history about the specific places we were going to visit, and specifically looked for photos of important events/people that contained landmarks I could identify. For instance, a quick google search of Hamburg would land me on the wiki article for the city–within two minutes I knew the city’s logo, the population of minorities, and a few things to look for. I also had pictures of famous WWII events and people standing right where I would be standing–which I knew would be a great learning experience to see.
Packing for me was pretty straightforward-follow the list given by faculty for your program. A few nice outfits, a business casual outfit, and plenty of underwear, shorts, t-shirts, and running shoes. Definitely rain gear as well, and a coat in case of a chilly night. LEAVE ROOM FOR BRINGING THINGS HOME! And I also found a duffel would’ve been much easier than a roll-suitcase, but that’s personal preference. We were in and out of the train stations a lot.
The excitement pre leaving the country is an excitement like no other.