Blog courtesy of Allison LeClere, a master’s student in higher education and student affairs who is serving a summer internship at the IU Europe Gateway in Berlin.
For Americans who have studied abroad or lived abroad for an extended period of time, I think we can all relate to the surprise we see when a native speaker finds out that we speak their language. My favorite question that Germans ask me is: “Wie bist du überhaupt auf Deutsch gekommen?” Roughly translated: Why on earth would you decide to study German, of all languages? I always smile, because the answer has been a decade in the making and brought me to working at the IU Europe Gateway this summer in Berlin.
My love affair with Germany began in high school, when I participated in two exchange programs to Germany. My Hoosier roots run deep; I grew up in Granger, Ind., and graduated from Penn High School in Mishawka. Even coming from a small Indiana town (cue Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), my high school hosted a direct exchange program every two years with a high school in Hagen, our small-town counterpart in Germany.
Before I left for my trip to Hagen the summer after my sophomore year, I had two years of high school German under my belt (which meant I could tell you my favorite color and that I was hungry all the time and that was about it). So even though it was a summer filled with miscommunication and awkward moments, this was the summer that I realized there was a world outside Indiana, and it was a world I wanted to be a part of for the rest of my life.
I was so enthralled with German language and culture that the following summer, I took part in the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages intensive language study for high school students living in Indiana. Each year, a handful of students from my high school would participate in the program and return their senior year having seemingly mastered their foreign language in two months. The success of this program stemmed from its “No English” and “No technology” rules. In this program, we were not allowed to speak English to our host families, friends, family, etc., nor were we allowed to go on the internet or call our parents for the summer.
While the internet rule has become lax over the years, I can honestly say that this program changed my life. I was committed to learning German, and when my parents picked me up from the airport eight weeks later, I found it difficult to speak English. From the program, I was introduced to my host family, who are now a huge part of my life; taught how to be a smart traveler; and returned to my senior year as a highly skilled German speaker.
After graduating from high school, I decided to attend IU Bloomington to continue my German studies. Bloomington is one of my favorite places on earth. I joined a sorority, raced with my Little 5 team and spent a summer in Bloomington, but I couldn’t wait to go back to Germany.
As part of my double major in international studies, I spent spring semester of my junior year abroad with IU’s German program in Freiburg, Germany. Freiburg is the Bloomington of Germany. It’s always sunny, it is surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and it is filled with young students who are eager to meet new people. This summer was unforgettable; it was filled with living in a flat with 11 other roommates, getting my purse stolen in Spain and writing my first (and last) 30-page paper in German — all events that were difficult at the time, but now are hilarious stories to tell in hindsight.
I returned to Bloomington for my senior year, even more independent, confident and fluent than ever, but I was itching to get back to Germany once again. After graduating in 2013, I moved to Frankfurt, Germany, where I worked as an English teaching assistant for two years through Fulbright U.S. Student Programs and Pädagogischer Austauschdienst, a German organization that promotes international exchange and cooperation in education. During the week, I taught students from fifth grade to 13th grade; on the weekend, I was a world traveler. I made it to Sweden, Spain, France, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Austria and Morocco, to name a few. With each new visit to Germany, I realized there is a larger world outside my worldview.
After participating in three exchange programs from high school to college, working for the Office of Overseas Study, and teaching in Germany, I realized that I wanted to spend my life getting students excited to go abroad. I made my return to IU in August 2015 to begin my master’s program in Higher Education and Student Affairs, where I also now work as the graduate assistant in the Office of International Services. Through my work in the international student office, I became very familiar with the IU Global Gateways. Once I heard about the new Gateway opening in Berlin, I knew it was a sign. I sent the director of the office an email and very eagerly asked her if there were any internship opportunities available for the summer. And just like that, IU opened another amazing door for me in Germany.
The IU Europe Gateway office serves a number of purposes for IU. First and foremost, it provides a chance for scholars from IU and all over Europe to connect, share ideas and collaborate on research. As the intern in the office, I have helped organize lectures, workshops and conferences that are held at our office in Berlin. Our most recent events have included a lecture on Cold War journalism by an IU professor that took place at the Berlin Wall Museum and a workshop on current economic issues featuring IU and German scholars. For our summer events, I have worked on making and cultivating our professional brand, which has included learning how to use InDesign and Photoshop to create invitations and event material. Hear that future employers? I have skills.
In the short weeks I have been at the office, I also created and now manage the Gateway’s Facebook page. This is has been a really neat way to connect with IU students and the Berlin community and to keep them up to date on all of our Gateway events. In addition to event management, I am also conducting international comparative education research to learn more about higher education institutions throughout Europe and to learn how we can better serve our students. Working at the Gateway has helped me connect all of my passions: student affairs, German and traveling. I hope to become an international student recruiter after I graduate, so working at an American institution abroad is going to be unsurpassable experience in preparing me for a job within international admissions.
Berlin has also been an amazing city to live in and explore; it is a Pinterest board come to life. Everything is up-recycled, chic, and ultra hip. I have seen restaurants with lamps shades made out of coffee filters and it seems that almost every cafe has swapped its chairs for wooden crates and pillow tops. One fun fact about Berlin is that there are photo booths hiding all over the city. For two Euros, you can take really silly black-and-white pictures with as many friends as you can cram inside. Apparently you can’t call yourself a true ‘Berliner’ unless you have a sizable collection of printouts. Among my favorite, quirky experiences so far in Berlin, 90 percent have revolved around good food and people. So if you are a foodie with a bit of wanderlust, Berlin is the city for you!
After a decade of collected experiences abroad, consider this my thank you letter to you, IU Bloomington. You have given me so many amazing opportunities to study abroad in Germany from high school to college; you prepared me with the skills and tools to lead a life abroad; you introduced me to some of my lifelong friends and a number of German families who have adopted me as their own. And for that, I am forever grateful.