My Semester Abroad at Johannes Gutenberg Universtät
When I first heard about this study abroad program in the fall of 2015 sitting in my organic chemistry I class, I was intrigued. I had always wanted to study abroad and to expand my understandings of different cultures and countries around the world, but being a science major these programs were far and few in between when compared to the amount offered for business majors. This was going to be my opportunity! I went to a few meetings and managed to convince my roommate, Joseph, to attend a meeting as well and when we were both offered the opportunity to go I think we were both relieved that even though we were jumping into a study abroad program that started less than 3 months from accepting, at least we would have a familiar face while doing so.
In the little time before we left for Germany, Joseph and I had a lot of items to take care of for the trip, so we met with Professor Arduengo pretty regularly. In some of these meetings we would go over basic German to try to get a feel for the language before we reached the Motherland, and this proved to be more challenging than I anticipated. I don’t know if it was my heritage (80% German) or my French lessons in high school that made me think picking up this new language would be easy, but I was determined to be able to have full conversations in German by the end of the 91-day trip.
Our flight left early New Years Day and I was excited and nervous all at the same time, I knew I was going to miss all my friends but I was ready to start a new chapter and learn new cultures and travel. Joseph and I had a flat in Budenheim which was outside of the city we were studying in so we had to learn the public transportation system pretty quick. The first day was a little rough because of the language barrier but we finally got to the university after a train and three buses (later cut down to just a train ride and one bus). The first couple weeks we spent learning the ropes in the organic chemistry lab we were working in during the day and during the evenings Joseph and I spent in Dr. Arduengo’s office practicing German and organic chemistry. The days were long and taxing but after a few weeks the results were evident.
One of the things I enjoyed most about working in Germany was the close proximity we had to other countries, and when work permitted Joseph and I would travel to see other places and see other cultures. We travelled to Paris with friends, had a beer at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, went to the Hohensalzburg castle in Salzburg, backpacked through the Netherlands, and also visited Frankfurt, Berlin, and Heidelburg. It was amazing to see how the language changed across Germany even when just travelling two hours away. One of my favorite experiences from my travels was participating in the Carnival festival in Mainz. It is a festival right before Ash Wednesday where most of the town dresses up in costumes and parade through the streets and eat drink and be merry. Standing in the Schillerplatz listening to a hip hop version of John Denver’s “Country Road” while thousands of Germans that knew all the words in English made me feel right at home and not like a foreigner at all.
Working in an organic chemistry lab was a rewarding experience, and pretty fun too. I made life-long friends with the people I worked with and was able to work on some cool projects. It was also nice to not have to do the same thing days in a row, one week I would work on a photo-redox reaction and the next would be a total synthesis. My lab skills improved exponentially too. My friends that I worked with in the labs, who are all either working on their PhD in organic chemistry or already have it, were always very helpful and patient too. They really cared about the quality of their work and wanted me to as well.
One thing I did not understand before making friends in a foreign country was just how much of a presence the U.S. government is in other countries. Not only my friends but basically any person I met that learned I was American could not ask enough questions about the 2016 presidential race. Some of them actually knew more than I did. They would ask who I supported and why, what my stances were on certain issues and were not afraid to voice their disagreement if they had one. It was refreshing to have conversations with someone with a different opinion and not have them tell me I’m wrong just because I don’t agree with them. We also discussed the politics of Europe too, some big topics while I was over there were the attacks on Brussels, and the refugee crisis.
The trip went by in a flash, and before I knew it I was packing up my bags (which had grown much heavier after all the places I visited) and getting ready to head back to the states. I knew I was going to miss all of my friends that I had made and the Erdinger Weissbier (a beer I had grown quite fond of), but I was ready to come back and share my adventures with my friends and family. The 91 days were a whirlwind of hard work, fun travel, and good memories, but after that experience, Deutschland I will be back.