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Study Abroad Student Experiences


I wanted to extend my deepest thanks for your aid, which made it possible for me to participate in the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) program Summer in Bonn at the Akademie für internationale Bildung (AiB). Through this program, I have been able to improve my German and get closer to my goal of fluency, so that I can consider Master’s programs in Germany and access the plethora of German texts on Latin and Linguistics in my future studies. I had wanted to do a home-stay study abroad program since the beginning of high school, and I was able to finally experience that through this program. Your help was the determining factor in whether I would be able to participate.

The month-long AATG program consisted of two courses, one on German language and the other on German culture, the latter being taught in English. I was placed - to my surprise and concern - in the advanced language class, and for the first week I wrestled with myself over whether I should ask to be transferred to the intermediate class. My comprehension is, as I believe is the case for everyone learning a new language, much better than my production. In a daily 3-hour class centered entirely on speaking, this was a major obstacle for me. After the first week, however, when I finally began to relax, my speaking began to catch up with my understanding, and I realized that I was in the right place. My host mom was extremely helpful in making me feel comfortable enough to relax both outside of and in class, leading to my improved fluency and overall great experience. She urged me to go out and have fun with classmates rather than burrowing into my homework, which I have a habit of doing, and we would talk over dinner or a glass of wine, switching between German and English so each could practice the other’s language. It was interesting living with someone who did not speak English as well as I spoke German. One of my top reasons for learning a modern foreign language is because I believe that native English speakers (i.e. me) should not expect others to accommodate their language limitations; being on the other side of that, being the accommodating speaker, I was able to better understand the experience as well as develop strategies for navigating the gray space where neither of us knew certain terms in the other’s language. Technology was most helpful in those situations, but we tended to try using circumlocutions first. Being able to hold full conversations with my host mom gave me the confidence to speak more willingly in class, beyond merely answering directed questions. My confidence also improved each time I was told by someone (a barista, a gallery owner, and a stranger in a neighboring seat before a performance) that I had little to no accent. By the end of the course, I felt confident enough to travel alone for a week after the program concluded and acted as a translator for my own mom for a couple days when she visited.

The culture course, Bonn - Cultural Capital of the Rhineland, was a very fast-paced course, meeting only a couple times a week with only an hour and a half to cover material and filling the other days with relevant excursions. It was a bit of a survey course, having only four weeks to cover significant architecture, art, poetry, music, and history. I wish there had been more time to delve deeper into each topic, but it did well with the time it had available. My interest was piqued the most during the section on the Rhine in music and poetry, and I and two classmates led a presentation and class discussion on Romanticism and the Lorelei, examining her development from a story of a girl inspired by the landscape of the Lorelei rock to her literary transformation into a siren to her voice as an alert to political danger to her pop culture image as a femme fatale figure.

In addition to learning the historical factors of Bonn’s appointment as the provisional German capital, I also learned about and personally observed some of the impacts of its time as a capital city and its remaining status as a UN city. I found Bonn very walkable and bike-able due to its smaller size while also enjoying the convenience of a well-connected public transit system like the one I’m used to in Chicago. Additionally, because of its UN city status, Bonn has received significant funding for development, some of which was for the transit system, but also some for other infrastructure like buildings and public works. Something that I paid particularly close attention to in my everyday life - and later for my final project - was Bonn’s environmentalism. I noticed the well-connected biking network and bike counters laid into the paths, the rentable bikes and scooters, the signs encouraging residents to opt for public transit instead of driving personal cars, the different disposal options (though a shocking lack of plastic recycling in the downtown area), the solar panels, the absence of (comforts like) AC and drying machines, businesses turning off lights at night, and the incentivized recycling of bottles, and when I had done more research, I visited Bonn’s Postal Tower to see its double shell facade and CO2-eating garden. Not once did I hear a complaint about any of the measures that the city has taken to adhere to the demands of the Paris Climate Agreement, except that it could be doing more, and it made me hopeful that maybe one or two strategies could be introduced in Chicago, like incentivized recycling.

As a result of my international experience, I have developed a greater appreciation for German language and culture as well as budding interest in international relations, and I plan to research what working at for an institution like AiB would be like. I will most certainly continue my German language studies with renewed motivation. Thank you again for your aid and best wishes for the future. 


The German Department has been incredibly supportive of my research, and through the generous support of the Friedman-Kline Foundation and the Office of Undergraduate Research, in the last year I have had the opportunity to travel to Berlin twice to conduct research for my project.

My time in Berlin has allowed me to do archival research in several major institutions in Germany, including the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung, and the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek in Leipzig. After conducting my summer research, I was able to use my findings as the basis for my senior thesis through the German Department. I have worked closely with Professor Isabel von Holt, who is the department’s DAAD Visiting Assistant Professor, over the past year to develop my research skills, and she has not only advised me through the thesis writing process, but also has become a great mentor. 

My project focuses on the impact of the fall of the Berlin Wall on the orchestras within the city and aims to explain how the orchestra acts as a microcosm of German society during this period of transition. I have gathered archival materials that have helped me to better understand the role of the orchestra in the Wendezeit, as well as read about first-hand accounts of life in the orchestra during this time.

When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989, a formerly-divided city was suddenly reunited – however, a distinct separation remained between who and what belonged to the former East and the West. There was a visible, public unification that was displayed through public celebrations, concerts, and performances; however, there were many difficulties in reunification. My research aims to explore the connection between the role of the orchestra and greater German society.

My German speaking skills improved so much during my time in Berlin –  it was such an incredible and beneficial learning experience to be fully immersed in German culture and language, as well as conducting my research from sources primarily written in German. I have studied German for many years, but it was an entirely new (and exciting) experience to be completely surrounded by the language – shopping in the grocery store, ordering food, navigating regional and public transportation, and attending cultural and historical institutions all provided me with unique opportunities to speak, listen, and learn more about a culture and language that I am so fascinated with. It was such an incredible opportunity, not only to see the locations and divisions of musical happenings in the city that I was reading about, but also many of the important cultural sites, monuments, and memorials I have learned about in my German classes. Being able to see these places was such an incredible opportunity. Both research trips have helped me realize my passion for researching and the joy that learning about new things brings me.

My time in Berlin has been extremely beneficial to my personal growth and has helped me to create a direction and plan for my goals as a student and researcher. My research trip last summer was not only my first international flight, but also my first solo flight. I experienced so many life-changing experiences while exploring Berlin and was truly taken aback by how welcomed and comfortable I felt in the city, despite being alone and in an unfamiliar place. That trip provided me with a lot of evidence of my capabilities to overcome difficulties and push through feelings of anxiety and discomfort, as I navigated a city in a language other than English.

Returning again in March to one of my favorite cities was such an incredible experience, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to return and conduct more research. Traveling to Germany both times was a crucial part of my research process, as most of the materials are only available within Germany. I am very excited to continue working on this project as I work towards completing it in the next month and am so incredibly thankful for the support and guidance of the German Department, the Friedman-Kline Foundation, and the Office of Undergraduate Research.


Thanks to the generosity of the Friedman-Kline Foundation and their support of students like me who wanted to spend summer quarter in Germany, I was lucky enough to be able to stay for eight weeks with significant financial assistance in two cities in Germany, Bayreuth and Leipzig. Both cities were situated in culturally rich surroundings, so my time was of course brimming with all sorts of cool experiences, including seeing landmarks like the church where Bach once worked, learning about former East Germany, and of course trying both the national and local culinary specialties (Leipziger Lerche and Frankish Bratwurst remain favorites of mine). In addition to being immersed in the culture, I of course drastically improved my German-speaking skills, even after taking just one year of the introductory sequence at NU. Herr Ryder and the German Department at Northwestern helped find language programs that aligned with my abilities going into the program and my goals for continuing German when returning. On top of everything, I also became a more global-minded person through the countless meaningful connections I made with people from all around the world who participated in the courses I took. I wouldn’t trade this last summer in Germany for anything. I gained exactly what I wanted from it and so much more. So, if you’re even considering doing a summer study abroad, I strongly recommend Germany as a worthwhile option.


For nearly 8 weeks in the summer of 2022, Aymen Lamsahel (MEAS, class 2023) worked as a paid intern among the research teams at ARENA 2036. Located in Stuttgart, ARENA2036 stands for "Active Research Environment for the Next generation of Automobiles,” and it is dedicated to improving the production and manufacturing of automobiles and other modes of future mobility through innovative and creative projects that are developed in an open, cooperative environment.  For Aymen, it was “the best summer [he] ever had,” and he will rely on the network he established in Stuttgart when he applies for a Masters in Germany upon his graduation from Northwestern.



What's it like for a college student to study abroad in Berlin, Germany? This past summer I joined Northwestern University's summer program in Berlin and found out just how amazing the city is. Here are some of my highlights and favorite moments from two months