Nell Poehlman - 2015 Program Participant

International students eating dinner at a restaurant in Freiburg, Germany

1.80 Spaghetti!

What inspired you to study abroad? 

I have always been excited by the world. I have a dream of wanting to see 100 countries in my lifetime. My majors are international business and international relations, so I thought that studying abroad would be the perfect supplement to my classroom learning. There is something to be said about seeing a culture for yourself in person, instead of learning about it in a textbook.

Why did you choose IES Abroad’s European Union program?

I love Germany! I am always shocked to hear that more people don't consider studying abroad in Germany, instead of choosing places like France, Spain, and Italy. I knew I wanted to go somewhere in Germany because I have German heritage and have studied German for many years.

Once I read about the IES Abroad EU program, I was really excited about all of the travel opportunities. With just the program alone, you are guaranteed to visit 10 different European countries! The best part about this is that it is considered school work, so you are getting academic credit to travel.

This program was definitely a good mix of learning more about German culture and history as well as getting to see more of the world.

What was your favorite part about your home base abroad in Freiburg, Germany?

Freiburg is the German version of a college town. Campus and downtown were always bustling and there was always something going on, yet there were numerous hills, trails, parks, and lakes that were quiet and not packed at all, so that you could have some nice alone time. With a great public transportation system, you could get to every corner of Freiburg in about 25 to 30 minutes.

I liked the location because Germany is in the middle of Europe. Freiburg, especially, is about 30 minutes from France and 45 minutes from Switzerland. This means that you can easily get to different cities and countries, and there are two large airports within about an hour and a half away, which makes international travel very convenient.

What components of your program made it unique? 

This program is so unique because it mixes classroom learning with real world experiences. This blend of knowledge, centering around everything European Union related, is designed in a way for students to get the most out of the program. At first I was nervous about having to learn in a European system with European professors, because their values and norms are so different, but I found out that IES Abroad really tries to cater to Americans.

The best part of the program was the learning. Now hey, that sounds really nerdy of me, but everyone on the program was nerdy in some way. We would spend a couple weeks in class learning about current events and European Union institutions. Then, what really brought it to life, we would visit the places that we talked about in class. It was super unique to see these things in real life. How many people can say they have been to the Council of Europe?

How did the local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff is very German; I say this in a very good way. Germans care a lot about punctuality and organization, so everything was planned to a T. They were really good with planning our field trips so that we could have a very academic experience, yet still have enough free time to ourselves. The staff put high importance on our health and safety and I can honestly say that I never felt unsafe during the program. The staff made sure that even walking home at 3 a.m. in downtown Berlin or staying in Prague or Riga we were always prepared and aware of our surroundings, so we would always be safe.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I loved everything about my program and do not have any regrets. However, I would encourage future students to make more of an effort to get involved in the local community. I wish I would have had better German roommates that incorporated me into their friend group better. The interactions I did have with them were really special because I got a glimpse into German everyday life, but unfortunately these opportunities were limited.

If you like sports, I would say take advantage of the local university's sport complex. Everyday they offer pick up games in many different sports. I went to local volleyball scrimmages and met many different people from the university. Some guys that I am friends with who are on their college's soccer team went to play soccer with German guys twice a week and said it was their favorite part of the program. Sometimes we got trapped in an IES Abroad American bubble, so I think it is really important to get involved with the German University and Freiburg local events.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

Hear the alarm. Hit snooze. Drag yourself out of bed, yes most of our classes don't start until 10:45 a.m., but hey after a late night that is still pretty early! Run to the tram stop. Barely make it. Sit on the tram, sweating and huffing and puffing while the Germans stare at you because you are obviously American. Debate whether you have enough time to grab that coffee and butter pretzel; you do, you always do. Get to the IES Abroad center. Catch up with friends. Complain about homework. Go to class. Learn all about the EU. Meet friends for lunch at the local university cafeteria, the Mensa (less than 3 Euro for a full meal? YAS!).

Go back to class. Struggle through German lectures. Meet up with friends. Grab 1 Euro Gelato. Walk through town, seeing new local spots. People watch local Germans and observe different cultural norms. Laugh, because even though you try to understand German quirks, sometimes you just don’t understand some of them. Ride the tram back home. Run to the Rewe grocery store (you have to go every couple of days because Germans don’t use preservatives in their food). Take a quick nap (zzzzzz an hour later).

Get together with close friends in order to have a potluck dinner together. Run back home. Get together with the girls again so that we can get ready to go out (we never dress up, but we love talking and playing music). Take the tram to the student bar. Run into every possible IES Abroad student. Split up into groups to go to other bars and clubs. Spend the night laughing, dancing, and talking, and also drinking local Freiburg brewed beer! Look at the time. Run to Uni Donner in order to get late night Kebabs before bed. Walk 30 minutes home because you just spent 5 Euro on food and don’t want to spend 10 Euros more on a taxi. Get home. Pass out.

Ring ring. Is that the alarm already? Do it all again!

Fans at a futbol match between the U.S. and Germany in Freiburg, Germany

USA vs. Germany soccer game

What did you like doing most outside of your coursework?

I loved the local sporting event opportunities. Freiburg is home to SC Freiburg of the Bundesliga. Sporting events in Germany and Europe are very unique. They are really upbeat and the fans go ALL out. The energy in the stadium is unbeatable. Going to a professional soccer game is something that I have never done before. I think every American student should get to experience the sport that Europeans love so much. If you can't make it to a live game, my group of friends made it a sort of tradition to watch soccer games and cook dinner together. My American friend came to visit and joined us for one of our soccer nights and said it was one of the most "European things" she has ever witnessed.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

We got to live in student housing! I was really excited about this prospect because we spent so much time with American IES Abroad students on the program that we didn’t get to meet many Germans. The housing opportunity allowed us to meet and interact with German university students who were in the same boat as us! It really gave me a chance to compare and contrast American vs. German life. This was an added plus for the program.

Now that you're home, how would you say studying abroad has impacted your life?

I can't get through the day without saying "well when I was in Germany" or "that reminds me of this one time during my study abroad experience". I feel like an old grandparent nagging their grandchildren about the past. I feel so nostalgic about this experience. This is something that I am still trying to process. It is hard to put into words how great of a semester I had. I truly met some of my best friends. I will be friends with these people for the rest of my life. I am even going to Penn State for a program reunion in a couple of months.

As for future career planning, I have learned so much. Even though I thought I was going to learn so much about the German culture, the German people, and the European political system (which I honestly did), I ended up learning so much more about myself. I learned about my family history and more of my culture and my values. This study abroad experience has allowed me to become more confident, independent and open minded.