FU-BEST Alumna: Jennifer Pampolina
An alumna of the FU-BEST program, Jennifer Pampolina describes following her interest in international affairs and German language to Berlin and the transformative nature of her study abroad experience.
PLANNING AND PREPARATION
Why did you choose to study abroad in Germany? I chose to study abroad in Germany because I went on a high school field trip to Europe my sophomore year and during this trip we visited Berlin. I was instantly enamored by the culture and vibe of the city and decided that I would one day try to live there. After I got back from that field trip I started to teach myself German because it wasn’t offered at my high school and was very excited when I found out my university offered an exchange program to Germany.
Why did you choose Freie Universität Berlin/FU-BEST and what did you study there? I chose FU-BEST because of my interest in the city itself, specifically the culture and history of the city. I also chose FU-BEST for the program itself. I studied International Relations in my undergrad and I was aware that Freie Uni was a good university for political science and the program had a focus on transatlantic, German, and European politics which interested me as a student.
How did you learn about study and research opportunities for international students at Freie Universität Berlin? My university has a pretty extensive exchange program and there was a list of countries in which students could do an exchange. I saw that Germany was on that list and within Germany the program in Berlin best fit what I was looking for as a student.
LIFE IN BERLIN / IN GERMANY
How would you describe student life at Freie Universität Berlin? Student life at FU Berlin was great, while the location of our program (at a building a mile or so away from the main campus) made it more difficult to meet German students, we were still presented with opportunities like the tandem language program and Stammtisch that facilitated meeting some students. I also like that the program included field trips to various locations in the city I might have otherwise not visited. It was a nice balance of academic and cultural experience of the city of Berlin.
What did you find most rewarding about your time in Germany? What did you find most challenging? I found the development of my German language skills one of the most rewarding thing about my time in Germany. My time there led me to the opportunity to return a few years later with the State Department’s Congress-Bundestag Young Professional Exchange program in which I gained professional experience abroad, working at an international NGO working in international affairs. I also found the courses I took during my time in FU-BEST very rewarding. As a student of international relations I have always found it beneficial to learn about politics from both the American and an international point of view. During FU-BEST I took classes from former German diplomats and academics in the field who presented to me the European or German point of view.
What was, as you see it, your most “German” experience? My most “German” experience was discovering the country through the various types of transportation. As a native Californian I wasn’t really used to travelling anywhere by train or any other kind of public transportation, I had had my own car since I was 16 years old. But during my time there I came to love the ease with which one can travel both within the city and throughout the country with public transport. One of my favorite travelling experiences was using Mitfahrgelegenheit, or a ride share, to travel to Munich from Berlin for Oktoberfest. I was in a car with three other Germans and we all just had a nice chat in a mix of my broken German and their English about cultural differences and similarities and our points of view on the world. Travelling somewhere with a ride share was something I would have never considered in California, but a German friend of mine told me about it and how normal it was in Germany so I decided to give it a go and it was one of the best experiences I had there.
LIFE AFTER FU-BEST
How did studying abroad impact your academic and professional goals? Studying abroad had a significant impact on my academic and professional goals. My first exchange program was actually in Turkey because my university didn’t offer exchange programs to Germany for people who hadn’t formally learned German. During that exchange I took classes outside my degree in international politics and discovered a passion for the field. Once I got back to my home university I changed my major and became an International Relation student. I have continued on the path of working in the international affairs field and done a number of internships in the area. After finishing my Master’s in International Law in the UK I continue to look for opportunities in this field.
TIPS AND ADVICE
What advice do you have for prospective students considering studying abroad in Berlin/Germany? I definitely advise people to go for it and to dive right in and experience as much as they can while they are there. Someone once gave me the advice that even though in today’s world with the advances in communication and extreme ease with which you can stay connected to your world back home, that you should try and avoid that and disconnect yourself for the limited time you are away. You should try and focus and experience being in Germany and not constantly checking in or checking up on what’s going on back home. I also advise people to push their limits and do things they may find weird or ‘foreign’ and also to try and see the good side of how things are one in Germany. I used to think the Pfandsystem in Germany was the most annoying thing in the world. After living in Germany I find myself going to music festivals or concerts and seeing huge amounts of plastic cups thrown all over the floor and thinking to myself, man if we were in Germany right now and there were a Pfand on real glasses there would be a lot less waste and litter at this event.