Shelby Corning - 2015 Program Participant

What made you apply for an international program?

I've always wanted to learn another language and experience another culture. Plus, who doesn't want to visit Europe at some point?

Why did you choose IES Abroad specifically?

The program offered was environmental science and forestry based, which is a perfect fit for my environmental science major. It allowed me to learn German and hike through Europe, all while taking applicable, exciting classes. IES Abroad is a real class act and was crazy helpful through the entire program.

Hiking Schlossberg in Freiburg, Germany

Hike up Schlossberg on the first weekend

What did you like most about living in Freiburg?

Freiburg is surrounded by the Black Forest. It's absolutely beautiful: endless blue skies, warm sunny days, backdropped by luscious green mountains and wind turbines. It's also a short train ride from Basel, Switzerland, France, and Austria. My friends and I took advantage of the perfect location to hike almost daily, and found a number of spots for picnics, bonfires, etc.

What makes IES Abroad different from other study abroad program providers? 

The classes are all through the graduate forestry school in Freiburg, which is top notch. So you get to go a beautiful town, that's the green capital of Germany might I add, and take hands-on, high-level environmental courses. The classes are one at a time, each for three weeks. Our first course was an intensive German language and culture class, followed by two courses that had us hiking/applying concepts in the field at least every other day, followed by two more instruction-intensive classes. The staff are very big into discussion classes (as opposed to lectures) and into helping you apply concepts to real life. In addition, our program offered a number of hiking opportunities: to the Swiss Alps, Vosges Mountains, etc.

Hiking in the Vosges Mountains in France

Hiking trip to the Vosges mountains in France

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

They were there for us day in, day out. They helped me schedule several doctor appointments, make travel plans, etc. You name it, they would find a way to help you. They periodically came into our classes to say “hi” or make sure no one needed anything.

What is one thing you wish you could change about your experience?

I wish I would have been more willing to go off on my own to do things (aka. not just stuck with the Americans). Towards the end, I started exploring and trying out cool things on my own, because no one else wanted to join. Every time, I ended up having tons of fun and usually meeting some new people.

For example, I went to a hockey game alone because I love hockey but no one would go with me. It was such an intense game! Everyone was chanting/cheering the whole time, and very friendly. Another time, our group had made plans to go to a thermal bath but everyone bailed except one other girl and one. So, we found an indoor pool in the city and had a blast. One more example, one of my hall mates played in the orchestra at the music school, so I went to the concert then out to get drinks with her and her friends. They invited me out all the time after that.

Describe a typical day for you in Germany.

Wake up around 7 a.m. and go on a run with a friend. Get back in time to rinse off, eat breakfast, and walk to class. Along the way, grab some coffee and a Streusel. Have class for an hour and a half, have a coffee break, then return to class for another hour and a half. Go to lunch, walk home through the Black Forest, and take a quick nap. Afternoons were spent exploring the city, hiking, or hanging with my friends. Dinner was normally at a friend's flat, or a themed potluck in my building. Drink, maybe hit up a bar or club, and then off to bed to repeat again the next day.

Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland

View from near the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland

What was your favourite out-of-the-classroom activity?

Well, normally I'd say hiking, but that was often a part of class. So I guess it'd have to be exploring the city or going on daily runs with a couple of kids in my program. Two or three of us would start the day off running along the river on the edge of town or go trail running on the nearby Schlössberg (or do hill runs). It was a fun, healthy way to explore the city and hang out.

Describe your accommodation. What did you like most about it?

I was in international student housing, while everyone else in my program were mixed into German flats. My dorm had an eighth floor dedicated entirely to get togethers, so we had everyone from the program over at least once a week for a potluck of some sort! Better yet, the dorm was a bit out of the city and right next to the river/Black Forest. Almost every morning I would run along the river with some friends and hike home through the Black Forest after class. If the weather was nice, we would move our potlucks to a bonfire site near my place.

What are some of the lasting effects that your time in Germany has had on your life?

It has quite literally changed my life. I'm so much more willing to put myself out there in new situations or go up to random people and start a conversation. It opened my eyes to the diversity, opportunity, and goodness in our world. I understand the struggle of learning a new language, and how great it feels for a native speaker to help you out or compliment you. In Europe, an hour train ride could mean people who speak an entirely different language and practice a separate culture; it's important to stay open-minded and good-natured.

Now, I want to learn everything: new languages, why we act the way we do, the history of cities, anything and everything. I'm calmer and more relaxed, and appreciate the little things. While I'm disappointed in how unsustainable and unhealthy large parts of America are, being abroad gives me hope that we can make change for the better. Like any study abroad student, I'm already trying to make plans to return, whether it be for grad school, an internship/job, etc.