Study Abroad in Freiburg, University of Freiburg
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Megan Cichocki

Paterno Fellow
Major: Economics and International Politics
Minor: German
Hometown: Zionsville, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I have known that I wanted to study abroad since I started applying to college, so when the time came to decide on a specific program, I did a lot of research to make sure I was choosing the best one for me. First, I attended the Office of Education Abroad’s Study Abroad fair, which was really helpful because I had the chance to talk to representatives from almost all of the programs I was interested in. As a German minor, I knew I wanted to go to Germany and I wanted a program that offered classes in German. From there, I researched the programs on the Education Abroad website and talked to an Education Abroad advisor. I also met with a professor in the German department to learn how the classes would transfer back to Penn State. Finally, I spoke with students who had studied abroad, and based on their advice I chose the program that I thought would be best for me.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I studied at the University of Freiburg in Freiburg, Germany, which is a beautiful city on the outskirts of the Black Forest. My program was a direct exchange, meaning that I took classes with German students at the University. Through my program I had the chance to meet and interact with students from all over the world, which I really enjoyed. Because of the diversity in the international population at the University, I had the chance to learn not only about German culture but about cultures from all over the world. For example, one of my courses compared German culture with each student’s home culture. We learned how the Japanese education system worked and compared it to schools in Germany and the United States. It was also really interesting to see how students interacted with each other, and I learned how to effectively communicate with people from a multitude of countries. I took five classes at the university, and through school and conversations in everyday life, my comfort level while speaking German improved exponentially.

My favorite part of the experience was going to the daily market and ordering a Wurst in German or going to the pharmacy to pick up medicine and conversing solely in German. It became second nature to me, and I loved being able to talk with my language partner. I also traveled extensively, and I explored over thirty cities during my time in Europe. Traveling allowed me to see and experience the cultures of ten different countries, and I also became much more independent and confident as I navigated through foreign nations. I saw Les Miserables on the West End in London, toured the Parliament Building in Budapest, ate lasagna in Como, Italy and I boarded the plane back to the United States with so many memories and an entirely new perspective on the world.

How did this experience impact you academically?

Studying abroad was a unique but incredible complement to my academic experience at Penn State. By studying directly at the University of Freiburg, I was able to see firsthand how the German university system functions and it was really valuable to me to learn in a different type of environment. German classes are very different than American classes in that the students take much more responsibility for running lectures, giving presentations, and leading discussions. Each one of my classes required students to give a lengthy presentation and to lead a discussion, and the professors took more of a back seat. They would contribute to the conversations when necessary, but for the most part the students decided how they wanted to run the class. This forced me to become more of an active learner. Instead of being told the important information, I had the responsibility to pick it out on my own and share it with my classmates. Additionally, my German improved considerably and I became confident enough to give in depth presentations in German. I learned to work in teams with people from other countries and cultures, and the global perspective that I gained will be invaluable as I continue my studies in the United States.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

I would like to be an economic analyst for the federal government, which is a position where foreign language skills are highly-valued. In order to be successful in my career, I will need to understand how foreign economies function, how world events and politics affect economies and how economic conditions affect the stability and prosperity of nations throughout the world. Studying abroad, I had the unique opportunity to witness a foreign economy firsthand. Through Germany’s economy is fairly similar to the United States, I learned a lot about German opinions on how economies should be run, the embrace of globalization by many Germans, and how American companies have expanded throughout the world. In one of my classes, we discussed the impact of American capitalism in the twentieth century which provided me with an international perspective that I would not have gained by staying in the United States. Having the chance to meet and interact with people from all over the world was really valuable and will positively impact my career goals.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I would definitely recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students, especially for people who would like to improve their German language skills. So many people have told me that immersion is key to really feeling comfortable speaking a foreign language, and after immersing myself in the German language, I wholeheartedly concur. Simple tasks like going to the bakery and ordering a pretzel became so much easier for me, and after a couple of months I was able to carry a substantive conversation with native German speakers. The experiences I had while in Europe helped me to become much more confident, independent, and adventurous. Additionally, by leaving the United States for a little bit I gained an entirely new perspective on how people from other countries see the world, which was really eye-opening and beneficial for me.

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

One of the goals of the Paterno Fellows Program is to prepare students for citizenship, and I now feel more prepared than ever to be a citizen both of the United States and the world. 

The Paterno Fellows Program has been an integral part of my Penn State experience and my study abroad experience more specifically. The program has challenged me to become a well-rounded liberal arts student and has provided me with funding that has allowed me to take advantage of several incredible opportunities. One of the goals of the Paterno Fellows Program is to prepare students for citizenship, and I now feel more prepared than ever to be a citizen both of the United States and the world. Thanks to the generosity of the College of the Liberal Arts and the Paterno Fellows Program, I was able to travel and see more places than I could have ever imagined. I was able to immerse myself in the German language and feel comfortable enough to carry and understand conversations with native speakers. I learned about the incredible cultures of other nations and appreciate the American culture even more than I did before. I met people from all over the world and developed connections that I will hopefully maintain for a long time to come. The Paterno Fellows Program had an extremely positive impact on this experience, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities given to me.

For more information on global experiences for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.

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