University of Hamburg
For Kerstin Müller, who has visited America twice already, studying in the United States is an adjustment that she was prepared for. From the University of Hamburg in Germany, with a bachelor's in political science, she first traveled to the United States when she was 16 to Missoula, Montana.
Although Kerstin had studied English in school for most of her lower education, school English was different than the English she heard around her in Missoula, so much so that at first she didn't speak at all. Fortunately, her host mother, a German teacher herself, encouraged her. She told her to not worry about grammar or rules and to "just speak."
It was during her second trip to America when she began to think and comprehend entirely in English. Kerstin said afterwards English came much easier to her and she began using it more freely. She encouraged those studying abroad to follow her host mother's advice and to speak up and practice.
Before both of these trips she did little to prepare for the culture of America; she firmly believed that experiencing culture first hand was the only way to learn it. In part this also helped her to not worry about her visits beforehand, a common pitfall of those studying abroad.
She also learned a lot about herself and built her independence as a person thanks to her experience. Looking back, she valued the time she spent abroad even more. She viewed the two trips an experience that led to her becoming independent and self-reliant; both attributes that are more important once you realize you have them. It was for these reasons that she wanted to come back to America. America was the first place she went to by herself and it's a completely different experience than just studying abroad in Europe.
Life in Northampton may be difficult to adjust to, but Kerstin had both faith in herself and hard working parents at home who support her. Kerstin said she was responsible for using their support in a valuable manner. But she's studying abroad for herself, not for others. Her advice to students considering going abroad was, "Be sure that you really want to do it. Be aware that things can go wrong, but believe in your decision."
Overall Kerstin viewed her experience at Smith a positive one, despite the cultural differences she encounters on a daily basis.
By Sarah Liggera '17 and Kaitlin Scholand '17, Global STRIDE Fellows