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Academic Year in Freiburg

by Zachary Schinske

Journal 1: 09/09/2017

    I’ve been in Freiburg, Germany for 10 days now. So far it’s been a lot of things at once. I’ve learned that there are 27 other students on the program this year, but only 4 are from the University of Michigan. The majority are from Michigan State because the professor that will be staying with us this year is a Michigan State professor. Although they are our rival I am willing to set differences aside and make new friends. For the past 10 days we’ve been handling the task of getting set up in Freiburg. We’ve moved into our rooms, set up bank accounts, acquired German SIM Cards for our phones, and registered with the city. Almost needless to say, I’ve learned a lot about the German bureaucratic system since I’ve been here. I’ve seen a lot of the city of Freiburg now and met some local Germans and I am excited to be here. It’s my first time in any other foreign country besides Canada and it was also my first time taking a commercial flight (domestic or overseas). My sense of adventure is starting to wake up and I’m excited to see what the year will bring. Just a few days ago we took a placement exam for our German skills and were then accordingly split into two groups at the language school we study at. I was put into the lower level group and am relieved. I’ve only had the basic amount of German required to start this study-abroad program (4 semesters) and I’ve found out that almost everyone else on the program has more than 4 semesters German learning experience. I am still in shock about this and because everyone has so much experience, our director and professor have been sometimes speaking in German at critical meetings and I miss things. That’s been a challenge since I’ve been here, but I am excited to begin the language course so that I can hopefully better my knowledge of the German language. All of this bureaucratic and academic stuff may sound boring, but we do take breaks too. Today we went on a hike to the local “mountain” near Freiburg (it’s just a very large hill) called Schauinsland. The weather wasn’t always that great, but the breathtaking views of the Black Forest landscape was amazing. We stopped at a farm museum that explained the traditional life of farmers in the Black Forest. The people there were amazing and I learned a lot. It’s been a marathon of events since I’ve been here, but after today I am excited for what is to come.

Journal 2: 02/23/2018

    Well I just turned in my last paper of the semester! It was for the German History course that I took that was offered by the Academic Year in Freiburg program. I have really enjoyed the course and our teacher is a doctoral student at the University of Freiburg and so we were able to become close with him and I’ve established a good relationship with him. As I think more about if I want to return to Germany for graduate school, he will be a good contact to have. Today is February 23rd and is the deadline for me to have all of my academic work done, but the semester actually ended on February 9th. A friend of mine from the program asked if I would like to accompany him to Poland for 5 days and so we did that right after the semester ended. That may have been a tiny bit irresponsible seeing as how I still needed to write a 5-page paper before February 23rd but I managed to get it all done. It’s a little weird to think that I am only done with my first semester here in Freiburg because all of my friends back home are done with their first semester and are halfway into the second semester! I really enjoyed the first semester though and all of my classes were great. I learned a lot about German politics and culture and history. I really do think that I have grown as a person in the past 6 months. I’m more confident to use my language skills and according to my language teacher I’ve made the greatest advancement in language skills in the class I was in. I was glad to hear that and now I think I am fully prepared to take all of my courses next semester at the University. This past semester I just took themed language courses from the University Language Institut, the AYF German History course, and the second language course offered at the language school that we began at in the beginning of the year. Technically being done with the first semester means we are about halfway done with the program, but right now we have a two-month break to do almost whatever we want. I think that most of the students on the program will be travelling across Europe and a lot of students will have their families visiting them. My family will visit me at the beginning of April and it will be my parents first time in Europe. I’m very excited to see them and show off my new language skills to them!

Journal 3: 07/14/2018

    Wow today went a little different than I expected, but nothing bad at all. I woke up this morning in a town near Karlsruhe, Germany which is obviously not Freiburg, but it is a city in the same German state as Freiburg that is only a less than-2 hour train ride away. I was invited to go to Karlsruhe by my roommate who lives in a small town near the city. He’s been my friend for a while now and he noticed that I once expressed interest to visit Karlsruhe. So yesterday we took the train from Freiburg to Karlsruhe and spent the day in the city. I stayed overnight in his home in the nearby village. Unfortunately, I was unable to stay another night as I needed to return to Freiburg today because today we had our AYF Goodbye Picnic. The picnic started at 4 pm which was right when my train got back to Freiburg. I went home to get ready and another one of my roommates and friend joined me at the picnic. We got there at 5pm right as our Professor, Senta Goertler, was giving a speech and highlighting all of the students’ qualities. I was acknowledged as one of the students who advanced their language skills the farthest. I enjoyed hearing that, but also kind of knew that she would say that. Right after Professor Goertler gave her speech, the President of the Academic Year in Freiburg Alumni Club also gave a speech. The Alumni Club has really been starting to rev up in the past few years and all of us current students had the opportunity to join. There is an American branch and a German branch. I decided to join the German branch because I would like to return to Germany to pursue a Master’s Degree in History. Every year for the past two years the Alumni Club has given out the “Academic Year in Freiburg Alumni and Friends Achievement Award” and I was surprised to learn that I was the recipient for this year. I was recommended for the award by my Program Director Ullrich Struve and by Professor Goertler, by my history teacher from last semester, and also by a teacher I had at the University. I was very humbled to receive the award. After everything I’ve done this year in Freiburg it’s been weird to think that I will be returning to the United States soon. I have the feeling of wanting to stay, but I know that I need to return to the US to finish my degree at Michigan and see my family again. It will be a nice breath of fresh air. I can say this though, the Academic Year in Freiburg program has certainly been the greatest year of my life!