Student Perspective: Dreams of Beer and Sausage

by Allison Ryan '05

I met a woman with a backpack covered in patches—from Vienna, Rome, Marseilles, every city I knew in Europe, and some I didn’t recognize. I was sixteen, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. That’s when I decided I had to study abroad.

Four years later, talking with Valerie Eastman [director of Off-Campus Study] about doing a semester in Ireland or in Germany, I realized it scared me. I was just getting comfortable at Scripps: my classes and professors were awesome, and I wanted to stay involved. At that time, I had just converted to the idea that when something scares me, it is begging to be conquered. So I had to do it.

I arrived in Heidelberg with a suitcase, a backpack, and a working vocabulary that would embarrass a seven-yearold—not to mention an accent so thick I couldn’t even recognize much of the German I was hearing—and got to work learning.

Moving in and adjusting to German systems and regulations was difficult, but once I negotiated the various gauntlets of what I call the German Conspiracy (i.e., to make life as difficult as possible for everyone), I was really excited about the opportunity to live in a different culture.

Academically, I was too ambitious the first semester. I tried to take classes from the institute for political science, and spent so much time translating my readings into English that I didn’t ever get to analyze the theories. Also, I could often barely understand the various German accents in the discussions, so I never contributed in class. I did give a couple presentations, and I still have no idea what percentage of the class understood me.

Some cultural quirks became frustrating. Sitting in classes of 100 or more students, in which my classmates talked the whole hour, read newspapers, or stared at the clock and rolled cigarettes, I missed Scripps.When people decided not to spend time getting to know me because a three- or five-month friendship isn’t worth it, I missed my real friends. When I discovered that the grocery stores don’t refrigerate eggs (or remove feathers and other hangers-on), and hot dogs come in jars, I really missed the dining hall. Being asked “Are all Americans fat?” and “Why do all you Americans want to destroy Iraq?” and from the more enlightened students, “Is America afraid of how powerful the EU is becoming?,” I realized that everyone’s imagined pictures of America are just as simplistic as our pictures of them—the only difference is, the average American might not bother to have an opinion about Switzerland or Portugal, while everyone in Germany has an opinion about us.

I did meet some awesome people—mostly other foreigners with no established social networks in Germany, from England and Serbia and Singapore. And second semester, I discovered that translation studies are a challenge, not impossible, and great for learning nuances of vocabulary.

Back in a country that believes in peanut butter and orange-colored cheeses and 24-hour establishments, I am readjusting to not being the loudest person around. I get ridiculously excited when a restaurant provides free water with ice cubes, and when customer service people smile at me. I get frustrated when people talk about driving somewhere less than a mile away.

I didn’t feel “settled” after leaving Heidelberg until I came back to Scripps. It’s amazing how much everyone has grown up, how independent everyone has become, how we’re all growing into that title “Scripps women” with our independent minds. So much has changed on campus,too—new professors, new Garrison, new trellises in the student garden, a new mural on Graffiti Wall. And I haven’t found a good answer to “How was Germany?”

I already miss the forests, hills, and accessible hiking paths with beautiful views of the little town, and the bakeries with their fabulous pastries, and the way people get excited to practice their English with a native speaker, the kids I taught, and the opportunity to jump on a train and wake up in another country.There’s something about Germany—it can’t be captured in a postcard or a magazine article—a flavor more in the air than in the sausages and beer. I couldn’t explain it in a million years, except to say I think I’m addicted now. I feel so fortunateto have had this opportunity, and as excited as I am to be back at Scripps and continue my studies in light of this experience, I know I’m going back there someday.