Ready for Immersion

Sarah Ross
January 8, 2020

My program starts in February, which mostly means I am watching my friends go back to my home school, American University, in Washington, D.C., or embark on their own abroad adventures through text and social media. Messages of “Good luck!” or heart-eye reactions to pictures of new sights abound. I know it’s only a matter of time until I receive the same. 

At my home school, study abroad is a fairly common phenomenon. Each program encourages it, especially language and international studies professors. 

While I am grateful to have such a robust support system in place for other students and myself, I can’t help but stop to think what purposes our abroad experiences will serve.

Is it okay that many students from the United States will spend thousands of dollars to go abroad and spend most of their nights partying, traveling, and posing for pictures? I can’t deny I want that perfect aesthetic as well. 

Are we aware of what we bring with us? It’s an immense privilege to be in another country as a student, especially as an American student—many people speak English, and the power of an American passport gives us more than we realize. 

Will we go abroad to absorb everything and come back to proclaim we are experts on the history, language, and culture of our host countries? How do we balance living, learning and growing for ourselves abroad while being truly respectful of other cultures?

I ponder these questions and more as I decide my own approach: I want to immerse myself in as much as possible. As someone who has previously lived and traveled abroad, I am both highly aware of my own experiences and highly critical of how I move through others’ lives. I have seen the twin fallacies of acting like a forever tourist and assuming I have something helpful to offer people play out firsthand. 

I have studied the German language since freshman year of high school; I have studied in Germany for a few weeks between my junior and senior years of high school, and I study high-level topics and cultural phenomena at my university, but I have so much to learn. All my courses will be in German. I am ready to learn the subtle nuances of grammar and vocabulary, to tackle more of those famous German compound words. I am ready to learn as much as possible about my surroundings and the people with whom I interact.

In the coming weeks and months, you will hear a lot about coffee, live music, underground punk scenes, LGBTQ+ experiences, and the nuances of an “international” city burdened with moving forward while facing its own demons in new ways each day. Remember that I am not an expert, but a student striving to learn as much as possible and reflect on my own experiences. But keep your eyes peeled—  you might see some cute dog pictures on the way.

Sarah Ross

<p>I am a junior at American University in Washington, D.C. studying Foreign Language and Communications Media with tracks in German and Public Relations. I am passionate about German punk music, linguistics and its relation to power, LGBTQ+ experiences internationally, strong coffee, and exploring my surroundings through creative outlets. I have previously lived abroad as a child and am excited to be back in Europe. I am also on a mission to pet every animal possible- join me!</p>

Destination:
Term:
2020 Spring
Home university:
American University
Hometown:
Dayton, OH
Major:
German Language
Public Relations
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