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   Date: 12/20/11 Bookmark and Share

A Global Perspective

Global Studies profiles of AMS students:

Andrea Clausen, of Hamburg, Germany

Anne-Catherine Berrut-Marechaud, of Geneva, Switzerland

The Global Stride program allows seven first-year STRIDE fellows to apply their stipends toward study-abroad costs or intensive language programs. As part of the Global Stride scholarship, 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.

The Gate is publishing their profiles in an occasional series.

An Interview with AMS students Lisa Kuzel and Liesa Ruehlmann, both from Hamburg University

By Annecca Smith '15, Global Stride Fellow

Liesa Ruelhmann GR (left), and Lisa Kuzel GR, American Studies Diploma program

Studying abroad requires a lot of work, but the benefits are immeasurable—probably why so many Smithies love it. Sometimes, though, it’s easy to forget that foreign exchange students also visit the United States.

Lisa and Liesa both attend Hamburg University in Germany but are visiting Smith this year as exchange students in the American Studies Diploma Program. We caught up recently about differences in schools and culture and they offered some tips for anyone going abroad.

A bachelor’s degree in Germany requires three years of study, but you must pre-declare a major and minor before entering the university. In the German university system, “your studies are a lot more your own concern and you have to figure out how you’re organizing [them],” explained Liesa Ruelhmann, who is here studying to become a social sciences and English teacher.

And in Germany, more students work multiple jobs because the school workload allows more time, added Lisa Kuzel, who is studying American studies and German language and literature.

Smith’s campus and sense of college community were also quite a change for Liesa and Lisa. In Hamburg, only about 1 percent of students live in university housing, while most others are accustomed to a 30- or 45-minute commute. On-campus life isn’t filled with organizations and clubs as at Smith, so students there have to seek out activities and groups.

Exchange students are almost always asked about “culture shock,” but Lisa and Liesa said neither of them has found it extreme. “Americans talk more to strangers,” according to Lisa, “but you could argue it’s not being friendlier, it’s just entrenched polite behavior.”

Liesa said she’d heard that “the difference between the East and West coasts of the United States is bigger than between the East Coast and Germany.”

In German university-track schools, students begin studying English in elementary school (sometimes as early as first grade) so the language barrier for many exchange students is not an issue.

For Smithies planning to study abroad, Lisa and Liesa offer advice that can be summed up as “Don’t be afraid to try new things.”

“You have to look for [activities you like],” said Liesa, and be proactive. She added that it’s important to understand that when people laugh about something you do or say (which will happen) it isn’t in a mean way.

A big university like Hamburg University has its advantages, said Lisa, but it can also be frustrating when problems occur. “The faculty and administration never know who you are,” so you have to explain everything from the beginning every single time.

If you’re interested in studying abroad, in Hamburg or elsewhere, visit the Global Studies Center, where the Office for International Studies is located, and stop by the International Student Organization (ISO) to talk to some of the many international students on campus.

And those wanting to study in Germany might heed Liesa’s claim: “Hamburg is the best city in Germany!”

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