Students recount study abroad experience in Munich

“When I first got there, I had a great impression. New life, new country, new language,” said junior Whitney Parkerton. “I was really excited to be there.” She and 14 other students returned in December from a semester in Munich.

“It’s a great way to learn a language and to get a German Studies major,” said Dave Limburg, Associate Professor of Foreign Languages.

The Munich program teaches classes in German History and Politics, Art History and German language. Since no prior German is required, the language classes offered are at varying levels of proficiency.

“Damage control” is what junior Erik Belmont called these classes. “They were trying to get the basics so that you could walk around on the street and not make a fool of yourself.”

Limburg says that even when students have little or no German language before they leave, “Normally their spoken German and listening comprehension has improved enormously by the time they come back.”

When the students studied German history, Munich’s own history as the birthplace of the Nazi party colored their classes. The city is studded with important sites from this troubling period, like the bierhall where Hitler spoke and the Dachau concentration camp.

“We would do these walking tours of the city,” said junior Jeff King, “and Leo [their instructor, a Munich native] would come across a building and say, ‘Well, it was built in the 19th century, but then your grandfathers flew over in their planes and destroyed it.'”

These classes, walking tours and individual projects give students a first-hand perspective on the birth of the fascist movement and its repercussions on modern German politics and culture.

The memory of Nazism even affected last year’s German general elections.

“They were still talking about what their two parties had been doing in WWII,” Belmont said. “The Social democrats were saying [of the Christian Democratic Party] ‘yes, they want to revitalize Germany, but just remember they rode with Hitler way-back-when and we didn’t.'”

Alongside historic buildings and pieces of the past, Munich also offers a chance to learn about contemporary German and European politics.

Responding to student requests, Leo Brooks, the program’s director, created a class on the European Union. When their course was through, King and Belmont toured the E.U. headquarters in Brussels.

Led by a member of the Green Party, they sat in on a parliamentary discussion, talked to representatives, and were invited into the office of a Social Democrat to talk about European politics.

“We couldn’t have done that had not Leo networked and made that happen,” said Belmont.

Most of the students also traveled on weekends and school breaks. Munich’s central location makes it easy to get to other parts of Europe.

“We were traveling a lot; for a month straight we traveled every weekend,” said Parkerton. “I went to Italy, Austria, Holland, the Czech Republic, France – we didn’t really get to know Munich as well.”

King also said that traveling and the language barrier made it difficult to experience much of the local Munich culture.

“It was hard as hell, actually,” he said. “The program basically isolated us – each person got to know the other 14 students really well.”

All of the students were in town for Oktoberfest, Munich’s internationally famous beer festival.

“Two and a half weeks of complete chaos,” Parkerton said. “It could be 11 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon . Drunk tourists, drunk Germans, drunk Munichers.”

She described tents full of people singing and dancing on tables, tourists unconscious on the subway and waitresses wrangling armfuls of 10 beer steins at once.

“I don’t know how they do it. They just grab a bunch and press them against their chest,” she said, spreading her arms in a wide circle in front of her, “then slam them down. Bam!”

Applications for next fall’s trip were due on Feb. 8, and Professor of Physics Rexford Adelberger will lead it. The average group has 15-20 students, and takes place every fall.

“The program is fantastic,” Limburg said. “You will fall in love with Munich and will come back changed, with a new way of looking at the world.