Program Location: Germany – CSUIP – University of Tübingen
Term Abroad: Fall 2022 & Spring 2023
My name is Matt, and I was born and raised in San José. My parents are both children of European immigrants from Italy & Germany. Growing up, I was raised around these influences and would consider myself culturally Italian-American with my Mom’s parents a major influence on me and their family as a whole – which exposed me to another world outside of English-speaking America from an early age. This ultimately led to my interests in history, culture and languages, choosing to pursue a major in History and minor in German linguistics -perhaps contrary to the culturally dominant Italian part of me. Nonetheless I chose to pursue my passion and do a study year in Germany after completing basic introductory German courses at West Valley and currently am in my second semester here at the University of Tuebingen having progressed tremendously with the German language since I first arrived last July. It is my passion and desire to dedicate my life to academics and become a Professor of History & Languages in the future. My dream is to be at least trilingual, mastering German and Italian in addition to my native English. I felt that I would never truly realize this ambition unless I undertook a study year in Europe which although has been difficult, stressful and at first quite lonely, has become a wonderful multi-cultural experience and the perfect opportunity to hone my second language.
I haven’t returned back home yet, so it’s hard to say exactly how it will look back in California. But I think that I have learned how to work with so many different people, from all over the world and different walks of life. I have created an expansive network of people here in Europe who I know I will always have contact with no matter where I am.
My goals when choosing to study abroad were threefold:
1. First and foremost, German fluency: As aforementioned, a major goal of mine is to become trilingual, fluent in the languages of my familial culture to complement my English. I believe that becoming at least bilingual is a very important stepping stone in this world, as it unlocks another world in and of itself, gives you another cultural perspective on your world, and most importantly provides so many career opportunities that I would otherwise be limited to with just English.
2. Developing a base in Europe: With the political situation across America growing increasingly more concerning and polarizing for me as a gay man and the increasing unaffordability of my beloved California, I have for the last several years considered my options for living and working in Europe. Before I started my program in Germany, I received my German and European Union Citizenship and Passport. This was important for me, as Europe would now permanently be open to me no matter the path I choose nor what comes of our country. I have worked on meeting as many people here as possible, befriending many of them, as well as exploring institutions such as the German-American Institute(D.A.I.) to better establish myself for future contacts and work here, should I pursue it.
3. Most importantly in the short-term however, is of course my degree. I had already completed my History degree requirements save for 1 or 2 courses prior to departing for Germany. But what was challenging to complete at SJSU unfortunately was my German minor. Here in Germany, I have managed to take all of my academically-required courses for the German minor and extra. I have pushed myself over and over at every opportunity I get here to take as many German language classes as possible. Stressful? Yes! Worth it? Absolutely!
Multiculturalism: This is a big one for me. The monolinguistic nature of the U.S. with such a dominant language like English as its mother tongue I feel really limits us in getting to know and understand other cultures, societies, and leaves us blind to many negative aspects of our own society. Growing up ethnic, that is to say, with parents or grandparents and aunts, uncles, cousins who were not born nor raised in the United States, is a tremendous advantage I believe in becoming multiculturally-aware and being able to establish and grow connections with non-Americans. From a young age, I often felt different compared to many of the other kids whose families were entirely born and raised American. I took great pride in my roots, and the struggle that my grandparents went through to make it in America. This would lead to my passion for culture, history, and languages. I have managed to make wonderful friends here from so many different backgrounds. Tuebingen is an extremely international campus, attracting people from all over the world. Getting to know so many wonderful cultures, their traditions, celebrations, holidays, and cuisine has been such an extraordinary opportunity to expand my horizons and learn so much more about our world. California is one of the unique places to grow up in America wherein you are already exposed to multiculturalism from a young age and therefore I think this is why I value it so greatly, seeing it as a given since preschool.
I took a heavy course load of German language, culture, communication and reading classes. In August, I had a special 6 week course program with German language school from 8am-3pm while living with a German host family. In the fall semester, I took 4 German language classes, 1 German reading class, 1 German culture class, 1 intercultural communications class, and now will be taking 5 German language and writing courses. All of which were to obtain my German minor.
Absolutely. This is a natural byproduct of any study abroad program. You are exposed to a different view of the world, which may also include many similarities. You are also subjected to a whole new way of viewing America. Before I came to Europe, even though I considered myself already a very multi-cultural and global person, I definitely had some red, white and blue sunglasses on. That is to say, I had certain judgments and reservations about countries, their political systems, their economics, societies as a whole that were quite wrong. This is something I feel is very important to be self-aware of, and reflect on throughout any study abroad experience, even if you feel like you’re well educated on the country you’re living in. In my case, I have always been a big fan of Germany and seen them as a beacon of European democracy and stability. Yet despite this, I still judged many aspects of German society incorrectly.
I truly believe that when I return to America this summer, that I will have an extremely different view on our society and the structure of our university, for both better and for worse. For instance, I believe I will naturally gravitate towards and connect with international students, and professors who have gone through a similar experience as me – such as Professor Katsev of my History department, who I have developed a strong relationship with as she also studied in Europe during her youth. I think that should I decide to pursue grad school in Europe, or do another study semester that I will be even more prepared the second time around and much more comfortable with myself. This is the kind of experience that is imprinted upon a person for a lifetime. I will always draw upon my international experience in my future education, career and personal life.
I think the foremost matter of importance is just pushing yourself to apply for it and commit. I remember the incredible anxiety and worry I had when I was even just considering applying for studying abroad back in January of 2022. Dreams will always stay dreams unless you pursue them, which is why I think this is important advice to always have in the back of your mind.
Once you’ve begun your program, this is some advice which I have received or reflected on and think can be tremendously beneficial to a successful experience:
1. Say yes to every opportunity: Even if it doesn’t work out, even if you don’t end up enjoying it, you still did it. You still took the step, and you learned more about yourself.
2. Put yourself out there: Try to join as many social groups as you possibly can at the beginning. When I first moved into my university’s dorms I joined facebook, instagram, and whatsapp groups to meet as many people as possible. I attended pub crawls, dinner nights, hang outs, in order to meet as many people as I could. Did I end up befriending most of them? No. But I found my people who I clicked best with, I found my friends, and I built my social circle and friend groups with them. They were in the same boat as me just trying to meet other people and so there really isn’t much pressure on you. It’s all in your head!
3. Take a break when you need to, it’s normal: I have found myself extremely burnt out from too much social activity, and the activities that go with it such as clubbing and drinking. These are a core part of the social experience at any university, which is why I think it’s important to address it in spite of our traditional anti-Alcohol view at American universities. It’s going to be there. You’re going to drink it. That’s just the reality of it. In my first semester I went to a lot of parties and I did a lot of clubbing and drinking with friends. By January, I was completely sick of it and burnt out.