Sophia Cheng

Spotlight – Sophia Cheng

There is a common motivational saying that goes along the lines of “it’s the journey, not the destination that matters”. Every journey has its turns and curves. My journey is no exception. How I ended up in Germany working towards certification as an assistant manager for International and Wholesale Trade is not always clear to me. One thing that I do know, is that the German Studies program at Michigan State University opened a door for me that I didn’t even know existed.

In the small town where I come from in southern New Mexico, a daughter of a Peruvian-Chinese and a Mexican immigrant, the decision to learn German as a foreign language was not understood. Everyone either took Spanish or French. Only the quirky students or those who had German relatives took the third option. At the time, I only wanted to learn German to be like my older sisters, who could talk to each other without having to worry about my brothers listening in. 4 years of grammar lessons and the occasional Lebkuchenhaus later, I was on my way to Michigan State University to pursue a science degree and hopefully a German minor, for I had learned to love the German language. 

During my freshman year, I went to the Study Abroad Fair (just like everyone else) and there I learned of the Academic Year in Freiburg program. I couldn’t afford it at the time and I didn’t have enough space in my schedule for more German courses since my science courses took up so much time. I managed to take two great semesters before my studies in Biochemistry took over and I focused more on my more scientific endeavors. 

As chance would have it, I was contacted a few semesters later by my former 201 TA, a German Studies graduate student, asking if I could help out with an after-school program, “German for Kids”. Eager for a new perspective, I happily volunteered. “German for Kids” soon became a highlight in my week and eventually led to a career change. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to make it work, but I knew it was going to be worth it. Shortly thereafter I left for one month with the Teaching Internship in Germany program, also through the German Department, and lived in a tiny village south of Stuttgart while shadowing a student teacher. Four weeks went by in a blink of an eye and I couldn’t wait to go back. Upon my return, I signed up for the AYF Program. I boarded the plane for an 11-month stay with a plan for the next couple of years: I would be open to everything around me and use this chance to improve my understanding of the culture and the language of a country that I could not explain my fascination for. What I didn’t plan for was the discoveries about myself as a person and my perspective on the world around me that would change forever.

I decided to stay after the first 11 months, to continue discovering truths about myself, and to hopefully find my place in the world. Perhaps I could have left after my two-year stay. But roots had begun to grow, strong and deep into the country and culture that I had began to identify with, to understand. What was supposed to be a glimpse into another way of life is now my way of life

After two years of AYF, I completed all the requirements for a degree in German from MSU and I was able to graduate. I took all the experiences and language skills that I had acquired and applied to do a Traineeship for Assistant Business Management in International and Wholesale Trade.

I continue to live and work in Freiburg. I am completing my training at a lighting design company. I spend my days working and learning in German. I go home to my shared flat where we discuss the lows and highs of our days, in German. My dreams are a strange mix of the two languages that I speak, with a few scenes in Spanish thrown in for variety. 

I wouldn’t be here where I am today, living and working in Germany, without the MSU German Program, their study abroad programs and their amazing teaching staff. At every step of my uncertain journey, the professors at MSU and Ulrich Struve (AYF Associate Director) gave me their support and advice. Never was I told that I couldn’t do what I was planning on doing and always had a door open for me. In a few short months, I will be ready to join the German workforce and I can’t wait for the next step in my journey.