Exchange student delights in campus life
Last week I told you why I'd wanted to attend college in America and vented about the tedious process necessary to fulfill my dream. In August 2004, I said good-bye to my native Germany before boarding a plane en route to The University of Tennessee.
Information sessions and get-togethers at the International House packed my first week as an exchange student from The University of Bonn. I became friends with several of the international students, and together we explored our new home for the next 10 months and kept one another from feeling lonely and lost.
The college campus and the surrounding area were beautiful. I love mountains and trees so plentiful in Germany, as well as in Tennessee.
I lived in an on-campus apartment with three other girls, two from America and the other from England. The British student and I shared a bedroom. The limited campus housing on German campuses is usually reserved for students who cannot find or afford an apartment. And like most students back home, I lived by myself, so sharing a bedroom was an adjustment.
Luckily my roommates and I got along well — except when I, the clean freak, was on the brink of hysteric fits because they were slobs.
Nevertheless, I ended up loving living in a dorm. It'll be strange to go back to living by myself. It was great just walking across the hall or two floors down to see my friends. In Bonn, I have to drive or take a bus to meet with friends.
But what I'm going to miss most is the recreation center across the street from the dorm. I always wondered why Americans have to pay thousands of dollars for tuition — now I know! With a brand-new gym, an outside and an inside pool, I felt like I was on vacation. I had to send pictures home to prove it.
College life in America is much different, especially the social aspect. We don't have dorms, dining halls and shops on campus, only academic buildings.
That means minimal campus activities — no school colors, mascots or athletic teams, with the exception of intramural sports. It's hard to get to know students who aren't in any of your classes. In Germany, we socialize in nearby cafés, ice cream parlors and downtown bars.
And that explains why school spirit isn't high, or rather, non-existent.
So I was as excited as a Southern boy when football season rolled around. My country's sport is soccer; football isn't popular. I had seen a few games on TV and tried to figure out the rules, but I still don't understand them.
Soon I learned that doesn't matter. College football, I found, is as much about the atmosphere as it is about the game. Dressing in the team colors (even when a particularly shade of orange isn't too flattering) and cheering when the announcer screams, "Touchdown Tennessee." I got goosebumps even though I didn't have a clue about what was happening on the field. It was the most "American" thing I've done during my entire stay.
My parents are likely to read this, so I have to mention that I also studied — a lot! I have never had so many reading assignments. We have a lot of homework in Germany, but the only time we read that much is at the end of each semester.
Because each class only meets for 90 minutes once a week, we also have more time to prepare for the next meeting. In Tennessee, I had to read the material within a day, and for more than one class.
We don't have quizzes or final exams either, let alone midterms. Our grades are usually based on class participation, an oral presentation and a final paper.
Fortunately I adjusted to the new system quickly, and thanks to several all-nighters, I passed all of my classes with decent grades.
The school year in Tennessee was one of the most interesting, exciting experiences I've ever had. I met some great people and made some unforgettable memories.
Jessica Schneider, 23, is interning at THE DAILY this summer since completing an exchange program. She will return to Germany, for fall classes at The University of Bonn.
Editor's note: Read about why Jessica became an exchange student (and how you can, too) online at decaturdaily.com. Click on archives to search for "In pursuit of a German's American dream" and "Your best bets to study abroad."