Dawn Noyes - 2014 Program Participant
The group on their last night together at the end of the language school phase in Cologne - The Kölner Dom, in the background, is where they would all meet every Wednesday night to catch up and practice their German together.
What attracted you to Cultural Vistas' Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program for Young Professionals (CBYX)?
When I learned about this program it was near graduation and it seemed to provide everything I was looking for: experience in real-world business (preferably international), the opportunity to continue learning German and/or French, and a way back to Europe. I don't think I have ever put so much time and effort into applying for something as I did for this fellowship program. At a time when I was lost and stressed about my future, I felt as though this opportunity was meant to be and I had to give it my best effort.
What kind of background did you have in the German language before attending?
I had minored in French and spent five months living in a small town in France with a young man from Austria, who gave me my first taste of the German language. When I returned from my initial study abroad program, I was ready for a new challenge in languages and decided to take a beginning German class in my final semester of college. When I arrived in Germany, I only had the basics I had learned from German 100, the vocabulary I had picked up from listening to German music, and a bit of Rosetta Stone.
What was the best part about having an internship included as a part of the program?
The internship phase of the program took my experience to the next level and gave the program a more “young professional” feel than normal study abroad. I was constantly learning new vocabulary that I could immediately apply and retain on a more constant and permanent basis. My internship was also ideal because it allowed me to work, not only along side my German colleagues, but also with groups of people from around the world.
Being able to add work experience in a foreign language to my resume is a huge advantage I have over my peers in the job market.
Experiencing the biggest beer festival in the world: Oktoberfest, Munich
What were your housing arrangements like in Germany?
For the first two months during intensive language school, I lived with a host family. It was just me and my host mom, which gave us good time to get to know one another and it was very helpful in learning the language more quickly. For the rest of the ten months of the program, I lived in an international dorm at the university where I completed the study phase of the program. I was initially disappointed to not be living with another host family, as this is a huge part of learning about another culture. However, I made so many friends from all over the world and got to live among more than just one culture, which proved to be very beneficial and well-aligned with my interests and career goals.
Describe a day in the life of your program.
The yearlong program was comprised of two months of intensive language school, four months of study at a university or technical school, and finished with a five-month internship.
During language school, we had class four to five hours a day, five days a week. The rest of the time I spent exploring the city of Cologne or traveling on weekends. Throughout the four-month study phase, I found myself with a lot more time on my hands and would use that to complete volunteer hours, meet up with my language partner, or hang out with new friends.
For the last five months of the program, my internship took most of my time. I had an hour and a half commute to and from work, so I spent a lot of time reading or sleeping on the train. I worked for a small organization that put on international volunteer work camps. When I wasn’t in the office translating applications and camp descriptions, or helping to plan and organize seminars, I was actually leading the camps and getting hands-on experience in the field.
Dawn laughing with her first volunteer work camp group - this is what world peace looks like: 11 different nations coming together to enjoy a “belly-bunch” in the beautiful hills of Bavaria, Germany.
What did you enjoy doing on your free time?
Hiking and traveling were my favorite things to do when I had time. I lived near the Black Forest for the majority of the program, so I could easily jump on a train and go 20 minutes away, or three hours away, and still be among some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve seen, outside of Colorado. I also had a small group of three other friends that were in the program with me. We made a point of meeting up as often as possible and even did a few road-trips together throughout the year.
What is the most memorable experience you have from your time in Germany?
My first volunteer camp that I led for my internship has been the most memorable and impactful experience from my time in Germany. For three weeks, I lived among and co-lead 11 other young people from around the world. We worked, slept, cooked, cleaned, partied, traveled, and learned alongside each other while helping to give back to a tiny German village that welcomed us and went above and beyond to accommodate all of our needs.
It was amazing and inspiring to see some of the participants go from very little English and no German skills, to being the most talkative ones of the group by the end of just three weeks. The friendships formed in such a short time have proved to be some of the most meaningful I’ve made.
When you bring 11 different nationalities together, the learning and teaching is endless, and the value of those kinds of interactions is priceless.
What makes this Cultural Vistas program special?
The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals is a program that promotes diversity among the selected participants. The selection criteria is based more on a mutually beneficial experience for the participants, as well as new and existing international relationships. The cultural learning begins when all 75 participants come together from across the entire nation. I found my learning and understanding of German culture was significantly enhanced by comparing and contrasting the perspectives of my fellow American peers. I also gained a new understanding in regards to the diverse cultures and subcultures that exist in the U.S., and saw how those can affect both the way in which the world sees our nation, and also how my view of the world is influenced by my small-town subculture.
Dawn and her “crew” of now life-long friends taking in the crisp air of the Austrian Alps on their last road-trip together
What was the biggest challenge you faced abroad?
My biggest challenge came from emotional disconnect, both with the new environment around me and my friends and family back home. It is true that making friends within the German culture is difficult and my time living in an international dorm, where there were only a handful of Germans, made that even more difficult. I found myself frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t simply walk up to a group of friendly-looking people and make small talk and instantly have a “friend” like here in the U.S. I did learn, however, that when you finally make friends with a German, they are loyal and one of the truest friends you can have.
In regards to staying connected to home, I found it very emotionally draining. You tend to think that time stops while you’re away, but everyone at home is continuing with their lives just as you are with yours, except that yours is in a different country. I struggled to explain things to those back in the States. Words never quite seemed to do justice to those magical travel experiences, and it all felt like too much boasting to go into too much detail anyway. I did my best not to let it get to me and discourage me from keeping in touch. I learned that true friends and family will always be there for me when I truly need it and distance didn’t change that.
What advice would you give to others interested in your program?
Apply and reapply. You can apply as many times as you want within the age restrictions of 18 to 24. It is definitely a program that requires flexibility and self-motivation, but the experience and take-aways are well worth it.
This is an amazing program that has everything a yearlong, professional development fellowship should have. There are so many organizations and opportunities out there that offer work and study abroad, but this one provides a year, paid for, to learn from every angle of a culture.