Lea Haverbeck

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Zwischenbericht, Lea Haverbeck, Central Michingan University

My time at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan

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Six months ago, I left Germany to study abroad in the states. I can remember the feeling of excitement exactly one year ago: I counted down the months, weeks and then finally days – time seemed to go by very slowly. Here in Michigan I have the feeling that time is flying! Only three more months at my American university are left and I will enjoy it to the fullest.

About a year ago, when I started to think about planning my big adventure, I contacted my fellow scholars – Simon from Munich and Tanja from Nuremberg. During a skype conference, we got to know each other and booked the flight to Chicago in the beginning of August 2014. Before we started our academic year 2014-2015, we spent three days as tourists in the windy city. We had an amazing time, and finally made our way to Michigan with the Greyhound bus, which was already adventurous. People always tell crazy stories about Greyhound bus rides and this, indeed, is true. When we arrived in Lansing, Michigan, former exchange student Ben Prout (2013-2014) picked us up and brought us to our apartments on campus. Simon, Tanja and I were exhausted but super happy when we finally arrived at our new home for the next 9 months. Our first days in Mount Pleasant have been very interesting and fun: because our apartments are next to each other, we spent a lot of time together, and discovered the campus and everything around. I felt overwhelmed by the size of everything and the width of the sky in Michigan. Even though Michigan’s countryside seemed to be very similar to Germany’s, the open space is still amazing to me. I am used to the packed Campus of HHU Duesseldorf and in general crowded areas like the Ruhrgebiet. Here, there is so much open area; next to my apartment, there are parks and a river; when I walk from one to another building on campus, I see many green areas. I still admire Michigan’s nature and CMU’s campus even with everything covered in a solid white snow dress since December.

At the Orientation week for international students, we met people from all over the world, but in the end, we had a close friend group the exchange students from the Netherlands as well as from Germany. We also found our first American friends there - mostly students from CMU who studied abroad and who now want to help internationals to have a good time in the US. I was and still am very happy that the American mentality is so friendly and open-minded. It was always very easy to get in contact with Americans and especially in Michigan, where lot of families have their heritage in Germany, all people I met were extremely interested in me because of that fact that I am German. I cannot count the phrase “Oh, I am German as well” or “Oh, I’ve been to Germany because my grandparents are German”. Because of the big interest of CMU students in internationals it is easy to find persons to hang out with, who show you the area, drive you to the grocery store, work out with you and eventually become your friend.

In the first semester, I took six classes, 15 credits in total. Because I am a Biology major, I took two Biology related classes: Biochemistry, which I needed for my degree in Germany and Nature Study, because I wanted to learn about Michigan’s nature – plants and animals. I studied lots of different birds and fishes, which you can find in and around the Great Lakes. Because of this class, I also recognized the popularity of hunting in the states and especially here in Michigan. Many classmates already knew most of the animals because they were somewhat related to hunting seasons. I was very surprised that it is so common to go hunting or at least shooting at a range. I met boys and girls who go hunting on a regular basis with their whole family, and who would use the meat and cook with it. I did not go hunting, but as an exchange, I went to a shooting range with lot of other international exchange friends, two Americans and in company of a dad, who introduced us to some techniques. We also did archery, and I were told that they even have target archery school clubs here, which impressed me because it was a lot of fun and I have never heard of it in Germany before.

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My other classes were Zumba, Hip Hop, Canoe, Camp & Touring and Human Anatomy & Physiology. I really like that I could take the Hip Hop class, because it roots lay in the USA and it is a part of the culture, and I was happy to gain knowledge and dance. The Canoeing class was a weekend trip in early September where we learned how to canoe and how to plan trips, so it was nice to spend a whole weekend only with American CMU students; and see and camp at Michigan’s rivers at the same time. Lastly I took Human Anatomy & Physiology out of interest, it has been my favorite class ever since, and it’s the reason why I now work as an undergraduate teaching assistant for this class and why I take Human Anatomy with Lab in the second semester. I finally found out what I want to do in my life, so this semester I also take Exercise Physiology and spend a lot of time studying in labs and in the Health Professions. In February 2015, I had the opportunity to attend and volunteer at the Michigan American College of Sports Medicine conference as member of my professors teaching team.

My other classes this semester are Teaching Aerobics, because at home in Germany, I am a group fitness instructor and I felt lucky that I could get a college education in it. I also have Teaching Outdoor Skills, where I have the topics archery, fishing, compass and canoeing. I like how CMU supports outdoor recreation and wants students to spread knowledge and skills, so I am pleased that I learn more about all those topics, because they are especially popular in Michigan. Since I am spending one year here I want to get to know as much about it as possible. I meet many students who are interested in the outdoors and we have plans to go hiking and canoeing, so I can actually apply my knowledge to my activities here and learn about how Michigan deals with topics such as hunting and fishing licenses and their economics. My other two classes are Yoga and Swing Dance, which I attend with friends. I appreciate CMU’s variety of classes and I am so thankful to work with very friendly and engaged teachers. Even though I spend a lot of time studying in the library, which is huge, I very much enjoy the American University with all the homework and midterms. I can feel that compared to being in Germany I study more efficiently and I am glad that I make this experience, because here I really realize my new skills.

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Travelling was a big part of my whole exchange experience – we started in Chicago and already at Labor Day weekend we, Tanja, Simon & I, did a camping trip with our first American friend to the north of Michigan, to Traverse City & Sleeping Bear Dunes at Lake Michigan. The first time I have ever seen Lake Michigan I thought it was the sea, so wide with a beautiful sunset at Michigan’s west coast. My sister came to visit me in the fall and we traveled to Toronto and the Niagara Falls, Chicago, Detroit and some places in Michigan. Also, our group of internationals and Americans did a lot of weekend trips to American friend’s houses, parties in Detroit, family dinners and a 12 people group costume for Halloween. After spending all those amazing weekends with my CMU friends in and around Mount Pleasant, with a lot of Football, Open Mic nights, Sport activities, fraternity parties, concerts etc., I, just like anybody else, had to study a lot for final week. After that, I experienced my first big “Goodbye” and to be honest, I was happy that it was not mine.

I have to add a paragraph with a rather negative touch: during our second visit in Chicago with my sister and exchange friends, we made the experience of thievery. While we were watching a Chicago Bulls Basketball game, people broke into the car we borrowed from friends and stole almost everything, including my sister’s passport. Moreover, we had to drive back to Mount Pleasant with a broken car window. I did not park the car, which is why I felt disappointed by the decision of my friends because that was the reason why my sister was crying. In the end, I can only say that friends will always help you! We worked together as a team and everybody helped me to get a new passport for my sister because she had to leave the US soon. I have to say that I felt more disappointed by the US police, which did not help us at all because the states are not communicating internally. It also took a long time to finally getting to talk to somebody in the German Embassy, but once I reached somebody, everybody was there to help us; a good American friend drove us back to Chicago at 3am in the morning so that my sister could get a new passport and catch her flight. It was an unpleasant adventure, but we learned from it and I am thankful for all the help.

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During winter break, Simon and I did a huge road trip to the south of the states and back. We drove more than 5000 miles in almost 4 weeks; started in Chicago down to New Orleans, where we spent Christmas together. We drove along the coast down to Florida, where we spent New Year’s Eve, the coast back up to North Carolina, and passed the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia as well as Ohio on our way back. During the trip, we could stay at friend’s places almost every night. We knew most of them because of the Federation of German American Clubs student exchange program. Three German FGAC exchange students, Minh, Fabian and Fynn, joined us for at least a part of the whole trip, and in total, we met around ten FGAC students, American and German. We also visited other FAGC partner universities like University of Cincinnati, Florida Atlantic University and Oberlin College. It was an awesome experience and it just demonstrates how well the cultural exchange works, and how intercultural German-American friendship develops and strengthens. This networking is possible because of the FGAC exchange program, and I am happy to say that I am part of it. Above all, my exchange year has been amazing so far, I learned so much about myself, about friendship, a different culture and my further education. To the Federation of German-American Clubs, I am very thankful for all the amazing experiences I made and I am still making here. I hope that this wonderful program will continue this successful in the future.

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German-American Friends Niederrhein