Studying in Germany provides insight for Marietta student

It would have been easy for Carlene Wesemeyer ’10 (Grafton, Ohio) to follow the normal path.

Most students enjoy college from a comfortable futon or chair in their residence hall rooms watching familiar television, taking familiar classes, seeing the same familiar faces everyday, and eating the same familiar food.

However, some students choose an alternative: traveling abroad for a semester or two to live, study, and learn in an entirely different country than their own. Wesemeyer was one of 36 Marietta students who studied abroad during the 2008-09 academic year in locations like Australia, Brazil and China.

“Going to Berlin, Germany, for four months really opened my eyes to the world as well as gave me many new life experiences that have helped me grow as a person,” Carlene Wesemeyer said. “It was a truly enjoyable experience as I was living in a completely different culture, speaking a foreign language daily, and loving every minute of it.”

Wesemeyer was a part of an exchange program that includes other students from the United States studying at a university in Berlin. With a major in History and minors in European History and Political Science, she enjoyed taking classes in Modern Germany History, German Cinema before 1945, and Berlin: History, Memory, and Literature.

“I chose this program, The Freie Universitaet Berlin European Studies Program, because it had English classes as well as German language classes, and the academic year was tailored to American-style semesters,” Wesemeyer said. “I had taken a few years of German in high school and a few online German courses at a community college from home while I was at Marietta College, so I had basic understanding of the language.”

Going abroad also means that Wesemeyer had to stay with hosts—in her case, hosts who spoke almost no English. Whether it was a conversation about social welfare or about loading the dishwasher, Wesemeyer had to be on her toes to catch as much of the German as she could to comprehend.

“They only spoke German to me—possibly one English word a week, if absolutely necessary, or in a conversation if I would have no way of knowing the vocabulary (one example is when my host mother and I discussed the social welfare system that is common in Germany)” Wesemeyer said. “This helped my German improve immensely.  My grammar improved, my vocabulary grew, and my pronunciation became better. Yet there were some difficult situations where I knew a word, but nothing else in the sentence. For instance, I knew the word for ‘dishwasher,’ Spulmachine, but at times I couldn’t tell if they were asking me to unload it, reload it, or don’t touch it; I just knew the sentence was about the dishwasher.”

However difficult learning a new language was for Wesemeyer, the company she had in her host family made up for the communication barrier. They fed her, helped her whenever they could, and helped add to her very enjoyable experience.

“Siggi and Heide von Bassen-Grittmann made me feel at home with them,” Wesemeyer said. “I had my own room and bathroom, I was able to use their computer, and was free to eat what I could find. I was also able to be with their family and friends when they came over and I was able to discuss many things with them, including the American Presidential election.”

With all the classes and constant foreign language to overcome, Wesemeyer took time to be by herself and enjoy Europe. While on her trip, which she calls the Epic Journey, she visited Hamburg, Amsterdam, Brussels, Luxembourg, and Cologne.

“I traveled alone for a little over a week in October, during my fall break,” Wesemeyer said. “On this Epic Journey lasting eight days, I enjoyed traveling alone, for a multitude of reasons. If I wanted to, I could stop at a market, or a shop, but I didn’t have to check with anyone. I could do exactly what I wanted to do—wake up early and sightsee, or sleep in; stop to eat at a café, or make sandwiches with peanut butter and nutella in my hostel; or simply walk around the city and not spend any or very little money on transit.”

Her only regret is not getting to stay in Berlin longer.

“I wish I would have known how difficult it would be to come back—not only did I feel like Berlin was my home, but I had a hard time assimilating back to American culture (the loudness, the English, and even the lack of public transportation),” Wesemeyer said. “Yet, even though I had a bit of a hard time coming home, I would do the entire thing over again, in a heartbeat.”