University of Hamburg
Once upon a time, Hanna Goetze was enjoying the scenic views and rolling hills in her small village of Sarbuettel, Germany. She appreciated the varying landscape, the cow farms speckling the country side, and the natural beauty of the willow trees. And whenever the welcomed seclusion became confining isolation, Hanna and her mother would make the hour drive to Hamburg and enjoy a day of shopping and concerts.
Now, on a brisk September morning in Northampton, Massachusetts, Hanna finds herself sitting on the cool stone steps of Smith College's Neilson Library. Channeling a perfect blend of European chic and fun trends, Hanna has spent the past few months writing papers for her American Studies class, bonding with fellow American Studies Diploma students, and further acquainting herself with Smith's campus. Here, as she waits for our interview, she fits in perfectly with her surroundings – her tan pea-coat and bright, floral scarf mixing with the patterns of indie-fashion and the colors of fall leaves in the background. Indeed, it's not until her bright, German accent bubbles a quick, "Hello, I'm Hanna!" that one would even suspect she was from anywhere other than Northampton.
"I thought it would be a good way to deepen my knowledge and explore different things that I could not take in Germany," Hanna says of her decision to enroll in the American Studies Diploma Program, which encourages foreign students to apply for an exchange semester during which they can earn a diploma in American Studies. In Germany, Hanna explains, there are many requirement courses in set disciplines, but here "you can mix it up. You can take film classes or something – or politics. It's different, so that's what I wanted to do."
Indeed, the atmosphere in the classroom "is very different from Germany," Hanna says, sinking into her chair in our secluded section of the Campus Center. Here, "you're more encouraged to say something in class and participate. . . . In Germany, you can just sit there and chill and just wait until it's all over. (Laughs). And here you have to say something." Hanna says this is makes people feel less self-conscious, and makes it easier for them to speak up in class – which is definitely not what Hanna expected coming to an American institution. "I thought it might be more, not 'uptight,' but . . . that you have to say super-smart things [all the time]. It's really not that way." (Laughs).
Even if there is less pressure in that respect, Hanna finds that there is more pressure in terms of workload. "I think here, your studies consume you more, but not in a bad way." In Germany, Hanna was accustomed to the European norm of taking four or five classes that each met once a week. Here, Hanna finds that she is "constantly" reading and doing homework. There are differences in the level of student involvement on campus, as well. Hanna has noticed that most people at Smith are involved in one or more social activity, whereas, in Germany, there are very few extra-curricular activities and social lives are kept separate from the university.
America, in general, is also much different from Germany. Tucking a strand of bright blonde hair behind her ear, Hanna tries to frame her idea in the most delicate way possible: "Well, America's kind of, like, 'cultureless.'" It comes out a little more bluntly than she expected. "I don't mean that [in a bad way]! But, because it's so young, it doesn't really have a long history. It's kind of like, 'Okay, people came over here, we had to do something with the land, so we just put up some houses and established some rules,' you know? (Laughs). And in Germany, there's definitely more historic background."
Certainly, there are many differences between Germany and America, the University of Hamburg and Smith. But, like any other college student in the world, Hanna has been thinking a lot about the future, lately. She hopes that the American Studies Diploma Program will not only improve her language and understanding of American culture, but also open her up to the world of networking with Smithies. After she returns home and finishes her studies in Germany, she is required to complete an internship as part of her degree, and she is leaning towards internships in realm of interior design or film. "When I'm done with everything, I have to pick a job," Hanna laughs. She's not sure what that job will be yet, but as she says mischievously – ready for any and every adventure – "we'll see."
By Adrienne Horne '14, Global STRIDE Fellow
As part of the Global STRIDE fellowship, the fellows interviewed and profiled international students in the college's graduate program in American Studies, to help familiarize them with people who have made cultural transitions.