Lizzy Schnicke stepped off the plane early in the morning, exhausted after a long flight, and suddenly confronted with strangers speaking a language she didn’t understand. She knew this was Germany, of course, having landed in Frankfurt, but that did little to relieve the overwhelming anxiety she felt in hearing voices that were clearly not in her native English.
“Going to Germany without knowing any German stressed me out,” Schnicke said. “I knew that going to country without being able to speak the language would be a huge obstacle to overcome, especially arriving in the airport on my own. I wasn’t sure how well I would be able to navigate my way through the terminal to the meeting spot or ask others for directions.”
Schnicke, a junior majoring in nutrition, was among 15 students from The University of Alabama’s Honors College who traveled to Germany this past June to experience first-hand cultural differences between America and Germany. They were part of the inaugural trip of the “UA in Germany Honors: International Understanding via Global Perspectives” program.
The students expressed varied expectations about the two week trip; some worried about communicating with the locals, while others were concerned about connecting with fellow students.
“I expected to have trouble talking to the locals, but they spoke a lot more English than I originally thought they would,” Schnicke said. “So things like asking for directions and ordering food weren’t as hard as I thought it would be.”
Just two of the students had a German language background, but all discovered during visits to Munich, Berlin and Dresden, that that Germans and Americans have more similarities than stereotypes often lead people to believe.
Will Green, a junior majoring in accounting, and one of the two students with a German linguistic background, embraced the language barrier.
“I was excited to put my German skills to the test,” Green said. “At the same time, I was afraid I would be totally overwhelmed and embarrass myself in front of native speakers.”
As the students discovered, most Germans in Munich and Berlin were fluent in English, so communicating with the locals was relatively easy. However, just because the natives spoke English, did not keep Green from trying to speak their language.
“The Germans greatly appreciated that someone was learning about their culture,” Green said. “I feel like I made a lot of amazing connections because of that.”
For most, the best takeaway from the trip was the connections they made with each other in such a short amount of time.
“I was surprised by how close the group got in two weeks while still being able to each draw individual conclusions about our experiences and keep unique perspectives,” said Amanda West, a sophomore international relations major.
By staying in small groups as they traveled around the different cities, the students shared thoughts and experiences as the trip was happening. They found themselves becoming more comfortable with each other and each city as the trip progressed.
“I felt myself wanting to stay longer in every city we visited, even if it was for just a few more hours or days,” Schnicke said. “There was always more to explore and discover, but never enough time in the day to do so.”
The students talked with each other and the professors about their shifting perspectives on Germany and the culture frequently, especially when traveling between cities and destinations.
“By the end of the trip, the hostels began to feel like home, and my fellow students and professors had become like family,” Schnicke said. “I didn’t want to leave what is now one of my favorite places in the world but I am forever thankful for the time I spent in Germany and for the unforgettable memories I made with my Germany family.”