Personal Report. A year abroad at the University of Mississippi. Thomas Kiefer

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1 A year abroad at the University of Mississippi Personal Report Thomas Kiefer Home University: Pädagogische Hochschule Freiburg Europalehramt an Realschulen English, Mathematics, Physics 7 th semester

2 In this Personal report, I ll try to summarize my experience of the past year and give some practical tips for going abroad. Most importantly, however, I want to encourage other students to study abroad, as it is a priceless opportunity. Why I went abroad Although my course of studies requires me to go abroad for at least one semester, it was clear to me from the start that I wanted to study and live abroad for a year during my studies. I m studying to be an English teacher and wanted to fine-tune my conversational skills and learn more about the North American culture to hand on to my students. Longterm immersion in the target culture and language enabled me to achieve this professional and personal goal. Why Ole Miss? This is a question I had to answer many times at home and especially in Mississippi. Choosing the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) had several reasons for me. The first and most practical is that there is an exchange program between Ole Miss and my home university, but this is not part of the following main reasons for my choice. As I m studying to become a teacher, Ole Miss offered a unique opportunity to me. The exchange program included a teaching assistant position at Ole Miss. Over the past two semesters, I taught three German 101/102 classes, through which I gained a lot of valuable classroom experience, but more on that later. I had been to the US twice before and had experienced the East coast and the Pacific Northwest. Studying and living in Mississippi for a year was an opportunity for me to get to know the American Deep South and thus add to my overall picture of North America. Last but not least, Ole Miss offered many interesting and academically relevant courses for me. Preparations Throughout my preparations for my year abroad, which started over a year before I left Germany, I was supported very well by the International Office of my home university. They helped me with the applications for programs and the Baden-Württmeberg scholarship and accompanied me from start to finish.

3 This was the second time I had to apply for an US visa and I would advise students who are accepted into a program to the US to apply for an appointment at an US embassy or consulate rather sooner than later. Appointments there tend to get rare towards the summer. When packing, I kept in mind that besides important documents almost everything available in Germany can be bought in the US. Life in Oxford, MS The first thing I noticed when I got out of the plane at Memphis International Airport was the extreme heat and humidity, which wouldn t really go away until mid-november and return sometime in March. People ran around in shorts and T-shirts in late January and two days later it snowed again. What I want to say with this is: the weather can be quite crazy in the South and extremely hot and humid during the long summer. Over time, however, I got accustomed to these circumstances. I got really lucky with my roommates and the place I got to live in that year. I can only recommend staying off-campus, since on-campus residences are usually filled with freshmen, who tend to be a few years younger than the average German exchange student, and also often more expensive than off-campus options. Another thing to keep in mind is that public transport in the US except for the big cities is often not as extensive as in Germany. As Oxford is quite small, I had no problem getting around since roommates and friends often gave me a ride. To really be independent in small-town America, however, it might be sensible to rent or buy a car. While food, especially fresh produce, is a bit more expensive in the US, eating out is definitely a lot cheaper and more common than what I m used to at home. Besides the usual array of fast food options in town, there were countless excellent American and ethnic restaurants, which had reasonable pricing and expanded my culinary horizon during my stay in Oxford. Especially the comparably cheap drinks and free refills allow for frequent eating out with friends, which was always a good time. American Universities are different The first difference to German universities that struck me when I first saw the Ole Miss campus was how beautiful and well taken care of it was. I saw landscape gardeners

4 every day, keeping the flower beds and trees in shape. Surely, there are nice universities in Germany too, but walking this campus felt more like visiting a Greek-style theme park during the first few weeks. Taking a look at the tuition fees in the US in general reveals where the money for this seems to be coming from in comparison to Germany, where academic education is comparably cheap or even free in some parts of the country. University sports play a huge role in the US especially at schools in the SEC (Southeastern Conference). I was told that college football is like a religion down here and I soon realized what that meant. Ole Miss has one of the largest tailgating festivities in the country. People gather from all around Northern Mississippi and set up tents on campus a day in advance. On game days, thousands of football fans socialize, eat and party in the Grove before and after the games, which was an amazing experience for me. There is nothing close to this in the German academic system as far as I know. Students in the US are truly proud of their school and their sports teams. Food on campus was also quite different. Even though restaurants and fast-food is usually cheaper in the US, food on campus at Ole Miss was more expensive than university cafeteria food in Germany. Also, the food choices were pretty unhealthy in my personal opinion for something most students eat at least five days of the week. In addition to two cafeteria-style buffets, there were numerous fast food places. Built on over 2,000 acres of land and almost 20,000 students, the University of Mississippi is a much bigger academic institution than the University of Education Freiburg. This is why it has its own Oxford University Transit bus system and a health center on campus. There are also numerous student residences, fraternity and sorority houses and small shopping opportunities. Overall, the campus felt a lot more self-sufficient than German university campuses. In general, Ole Miss took good care of international students. The Office of International Programs and the Study Abroad Office regularly organized events for international and exchange students. Amongst these were trips to cities like Chicago or New Orleans, parties, crawfish boils, and a welcome and goodbye dinner. They also assigned every single exchange student with what they called a Global Ambassador. This was an American student who volunteered to take care of incoming exchange students, help them get around, and get to know how things work at university and around it.

5 Even though these services were offered, I feel like it would have been hard to get to know a lot of American students had I not lived with some of the nicest ones. International students tended to form groups and stick together and American students seemed to have built their circle of friends already for the most part. Studying and teaching abroad I had already looked into the courses offered at Ole Miss months before I arrived, so I had an idea of which courses I was going to take during my first semester. In order to get registered for them I had to go to the instructors themselves to have me registered, but that wasn t really a problem since all of them were really nice and helpful. There were books required for almost every course I attended, which had to be bought in advance. These were a lot more expensive than in Germany and also made me notice again how much the universities are seen as a business in the US. As far as the content of lectures and seminars go, they are similar to the ones I attended at home. Likewise, a lot depends on the professor and so I was glad I had some recommendations from other students and former exchange students from the PH. The main difference in my opinion is the workload during the semester. Courses in the US tend to involve a lot more homework. That is reading articles, doing exercises, preparing portfolios, writing essays and such. Numerous exams and assignments are often spread out throughout the entire semester and can keep you quite busy after school or on weekends. In Germany the grade for a course often relies on one single exam or term paper at the end of the semester. In the US, it felt a lot more like gradually building up the grade for a course and thus it wouldn t actually be too bad if you missed or failed at one or two of the assignments, as there were a lot. Similarly to the PH Freiburg system, the last week of the semester was finals week when all of the final exams were given. All other assignments, even major term papers, were due before then. Having to have everything done before the semester ends, might mean more workload during the semester, but it also has a noteworthy advantage: Other than in Germany, your semester break is a real break with no university work at all as long as you don t take intersession courses. This meant that I could use this time to extensively travel North America and make the most of my time before the next semester started.

6 When in doubt, Umlaut! As I mentioned earlier, besides being a regular exchange student at Ole Miss, I was a teaching assistant in the Modern Languages Department. This meant that I taught one German 101 and two German 102 classes. In addition to that I was responsible for the German Club and had two office hours each week. Teaching actual university courses and studying the usual 12 credit hours at the same time in a foreign country was a challenge, but this was the main reason I chose Ole Miss for my year abroad. The courses I taught met three times a week and were attended by 10 to 20 students. Even though it was tough at first to stay on top of homework for the courses I was taking and being prepared to teach my own class three times a week, it was well worth the experiences I gained from it. The students were generally very interested not only in the German language, but also about the culture. I feel like I gave them a lot of first-hand impressions about my country, its language and its culture. The German Club I lead during the year was another opportunity for me to get to know German language students better. We cooked some regional specialties like Kässpätzle, watched German movies, went on a trip to a German restaurant in Memphis, and had a German Christmas celebration with Christmas cookies and traditional German Christmas songs. As a member of the body of instructors in the Modern Language Department, I had the chance to not only make friends with students I met on campus, but also with professors and staff. I was kindly supported by my supervisor, who was the head of the German department. Having had an office on campus with my own computer was also very convenient for me to work and prepare classes in. This position opened up the opportunity for me to take part in the Mississippi Foreign Language Association s yearly conference, where I did a presentation on New Media Forms in the Foreign Language Classroom with two of my colleagues. Time well spent Even though it was not always easy to live, study and teach so far away from home, it was a very fulfilling and enriching experience overall. Looking back, I m glad I chose this unique program as I profited from being both student and instructor. The whole year,

7 immersed in the language and culture, enabled me to grow academically, as well as personally. A year abroad teaches much more than just what is learnt in classrooms. This knowledge is impossible to obtain from half a world away. I want to thank the Baden- Württemberg Stipendium Program for their generous support and for making this entire cultural exchange possible for me. I hereby give my consent to publishing my personal report on the website of the Baden-Württemberg Stipendium.

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