With the support of the Delta Phi Alpha Study Abroad Scholarship, I have just finished a semester at the Münster Fachhochschule, or University of Applied Sciences, in the Bundesland of Nordrhein-Westfalen. I knew, before I stepped on the plane, that this year would be an adventure. Now, I can confidently say that these past six months have been the most exciting and rewarding of my life so far.
I am glad to say that misunderstandings have become less frequent as my language skills improve and my knowledge of the culture deepens. I am now able to enter a bank to dispute a charge without anxiety, and even describe the United States’ presidential elections, a popular topic in Germany. German stereotypes are not quite as abundant as I was led to believe prior to my arrival, but I have grown accustomed to certain cultural intricacies that do exist here. For example, not crossing the street on red (even if it is the middle of the night and there is not a car in sight), the fact that a document means nothing without an official stamp, or that it is perfectly normal to make an appointment for a coffee date with a colleague one month in advance. I am in constant awe of the durable German infrastructure and the massive cathedrals in every city with centuries of history embedded in their every wall. Also noteworthy, is the perceived social equality among the citizens, as well as the incredibly efficient network of public transportation.
In terms of my studies in Geography, my seminars at the Fachhochschule focussed on the human aspects, namely migration and integration, which, given the current refugee crisis, are very relevant topics in Germany. Up to now, my studies in Hawai’i have been understandably U.S.-centric, so it was fascinating to be presented with similar concepts from a German perspective with German examples, maps, and statistics.
Learning about migration waves and integration procedures from a professor with a PowerPoint was one way I was able to achieve an understanding of actual events in Germany, but not the best way. With the help of the Delta Phi Alpha scholarship, rather than getting a part-time job, I was able to volunteer at a local refugee camp during my free time. This gave me the opportunity to see, up-close, the effects of civil war and groups like Da’ish on the global community. Hearing first-hand accounts of what some of these people have been through, left me horrified, inspired, and incredulous at the fact that they have kept going. Not only do they keep going, they also manage to be pleasant, friendly, and helpful despite their situations. I am now a full-time intern at the camp, and the smiles with which I am greeted each morning are reminders that regardless of the hand one has been dealt, we are all human and it is still possible to be appreciative and treat one another with respect.
Speaking of appreciation, words simply are not enough to describe the gratitude I feel at being granted this experience. Living and studying in Germany while serving my global community during a time of need; two of my dreams realized simultaneously. In the form of a scholarship, Delta Phi Alpha provided me with a solid step upon which to climb in order to reach my goals. I can not imagine how I will top it, but if this chapter of my life has taught me anything, it is to keep climbing.