Students Spend Year Abroad Studying, Interning, Exploring

For more than 50 years, students from Michigan State University have had the opportunity to spend a year abroad studying at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg, Germany, where they are fully immersed in German language and culture. 

Students in the Academic Year in Freiburg program enroll in specially designed courses in language, culture, and literature supplemented with German classes in related fields. They also intern with various organizations and businesses. 

Four of the students who participated in the program last year share their experiences studying and interning abroad. These students include Kayla Draheim, Hannah Dunstan, Nate Graham, and Daniel Nemeth. 

Kayla Draheim 

Kayla Draheim liked the Academic Year in Freiburg program so much that she switched her major for the program and instead of just one year, she decided to participate in the program twice. She spent two years studying at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, and after graduating from MSU this past May, she stayed in Germany where she continues to work for the organization she interned with. She also would eventually like to pursue a master’s degree in Politics or International Relations. 

“I was in James Madison, but was so enthralled by Freiburg and studying in Germany that I switched my major to German to be able to stay,” Draheim said. 

She interned at the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung, the state center for political education, in Baden-Würrtemburg, Germany. There, she was assigned several translation projects from German to English and spent much of her time preparing for political education events for school groups. 

“The institution works to bring both local and international political education to people of all ages,” Draheim said. “For example, in November there will be a viewing of the results of the U.S. midterm elections.” 

three woman all smiling at the camera

Draheim (middle)  in the AYF office with Professor Senta Görtler (right) and Professor Lynn Wolf (left) 

Draheim has helped develop and design an educational seminar highlighting the midterm elections in Michigan. 

“From now until November 6, small groups of trained volunteers, including myself, will travel to various high schools in the Freiburg region and lead an educational role play of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives elections in Michigan,” she said. “The seminar will be bilingual and largely conducted in English. The students will be encouraged to practice their English skills, while learning about the U.S. political system and the importance of the midterm elections.” 

Though she misses a lot of things about MSU, like campus life and football games, she is grateful for her time abroad.

“My favorite memory while being abroad would be the indistinct moment when native German speakers no longer knew I wasn’t German,” Draheim said. “This didn’t happen all at once, but was instead a slow transition. Being asked where in Germany I’m from or if I was raised bilingual is by no means the best measure of language competence, but hearing it is extremely validating of my choice to stay and reminds me of my language capabilities.”

Hannah Dunstan

After changing her major a few times, senior Hannah Dunstan decided to major in German and minor in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). She went on the Academic Year in Freiburg program to improve her German and to live abroad and see a different part of the world. 

“My time was both extraordinary and completely ordinary,” Dunstan said. “I think what most people don’t talk about when it comes to this long of a study abroad program is how ordinary it all becomes. After the first few months, it’s not ‘OMG I’m in Germany!’ anymore, it’s just “this is my life and I love it.’”

Dunstan interned at the Carl-Schurz-Haus, a German-American cultural institute in Freiburg that offers English classes for all levels and which organizes various events and programs that relate to the United States and its connection with Germany. 

Working with children and helping them learn a language while also playing games and having fun – perfection.

Hannah Dunstan

“I got to use my artistic skills for an advertisement and learned the basics of an animation program. I also learned new teaching techniques and soft skills for dealing with both children and their parents,” Dunstan said. “And, I learned a lot by observing all the workers there and how they handled not only their jobs, but also working in a multicultural workplace. Mainly Germans and Americans work there, with other nationalities also represented. Observing how they worked around cultural differences and understood each other’s differences without ever changing who they are was very inspiring.”

Dunstan interned with the Carl-Schurz-Haus from April to the beginning of July. For the first two weeks, she was a teaching assistant for a week-long English class for children. 

“As someone who has studied education, this was a dream for me,” she said. “Working with children and helping them learn a language while also playing games and having fun – perfection.” 

One of her favorite memories of her time in Germany was spending Christmas there. 

“Christmas was really magical. I spent it with a friend’s family. She and her sister spoke English, but her parents did not, so it was four days of me having to work my hardest to speak German,” Dunstan said. “Her entire family was so patient with my German, and so kind and loving and understanding. They treated me as if I was their own daughter, which is what I needed during my first Christmas away from my own family.”

Nate Graham 

Nate Graham is a senior double majoring in English and German. His time in Germany, he says, made a huge impact on him and gave him a better sense of what he wants to do with his career.

“Living abroad has probably been the most meaningful experience in my life thus far, and I can’t recommend it enough,” Graham said. “It really changes the way you see yourself and the world in ways you’d never imagine.” 

During his second semester abroad, he interned at the Carl-Schurz-Haus in Freiburg, which provides English language courses and regularly holds lectures and events on American culture and hosts readings from American and German authors. 

Graham spent the first two weeks of his internship working as a full-time assistant English teacher for German students at an elementary school. Following that, he worked part-time for the institute’s Social Media and Public Relations Department. 

a group of 8 students all sitting on a sidewalk
Graham (front, right) sitting near Augustiner Platz in Freiburg with friends

“The most valuable and enriching aspect of my internship was definitely the ability to experience a foreign work environment,” Graham said. “The Carl-Schurz-Haus employs both Germans and Americans, so the office culture was multicultural and exciting. Through this experience, I got a better sense of what I’m looking for in my own career, as well as differences between German and American perceptions of work culture.”

Graham said he made a lot of memories during his time abroad, with one of his favorite being spending the evening in the Black Forest, which surrounds Freiburg. 

“A few German friends and I went up a hill in the forest to watch the sunset and to send off their Colombian roommate who was moving to Switzerland in a few days,” Graham said. “Some of my German friends could speak Spanish, so multiple languages and cultures were in the mix for the whole evening. The weather was perfect and the view was great. We made a bonfire and ended up staying there until 3 a.m.! Definitely a night that I’ll never forget.” 

To prepare for the year abroad, Graham attended meetings and kept in contact with Cindy Walter, German advisor; Ulli Struve, Academic Year in Freiburg Associate Director; and Senta Goertler, Academic Year in Freiburg Resident Director. 

“They helped prepare us for the cultural differences we would experience in Freiburg before leaving,” Graham said, “and continually helped us with whatever we were dealing with over the course of the year.” 

Daniel Nemeth

Daniel Nemeth is a senior with a double major in German and Political Science who plans to graduate in May and go on to earn a master’s degree in German at MSU before returning to Germany to study for a master’s in Political Science.

During the first part of his time abroad, Nemeth took language and Academic Year in Freiburg courses before he felt comfortable and confident enough to enroll in more intense classes with German university students. He then took a variety of courses, including Political Science and History classes.

He also interned with the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute, an independent, nonprofit research institute that focuses on developing countries and comparative area studies. 

Most of his time was spent assisting researchers with current projects, either by conducting background research, preparing a brief for upcoming conferences, or editing English language articles for publication. 

a group of 6 students all sitting on a bridge at night
Nemeth (far right) on the Blue Bridge in Freiburg with friends from the program

“As someone interested in comparative area studies research, my internship provided me with a better sense of the day-to-day life and workload of a researcher at a non-governmental organization,” Nemeth said. “Conducting background research also helped me develop more knowledge about political situations in non-European and non-American countries, which in turn sparked further interest in these areas for me.”

Beyond school and his internship, Nemeth spent much of his time exploring and making memories. 

“I have so many fond memories from my time in Freiburg and of all the friends I made,” he said. “One of my favorite memories was of one of my last days in Germany when we went to Vauban and walked about 20 minutes out of the city to Schönberg at night, laid down our blankets, and just hung out and watched the Perseid meteor shower.” 

Nemeth says that study abroad should be a must for the college experience and encourages other students to give it a try.

“I know cost is always the biggest factor, but my year in Freiburg was cheaper than a year at MSU due to scholarships,” he said. “It’s important to get out of your comfort zone, especially if that means moving halfway across the world to live in a country for a year where you can only ‘kind of’ speak the language. It’s a huge confidence booster and you’ll make friends with so many people you never thought was possible.”

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