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Reflecting on a Year Abroad July 13, 2011

Posted by Christine Morrison in Fulbright, Germany, Undergraduate.
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My flight home is approaching far too quickly. As I pack up and close out this chapter of my life in Germany, I find myself doing a lot of reflecting on my experience here. I would like to share some of these reflections in hopes that they will encourage others to pursue time abroad.

Challenges

The most challenging experience I have had this year – more so than the first 24 hours after my arrival – has been getting ready to leave.

Pillow Fight in front of the Brandenburger Gate in Berlin

A 12,000-person pillow fight in front of the Brandenburger Gate, a famous symbol of the city of Berlin. People of all ages attended the pillow fight, and for 20 minutes it rained feathers on this city square!

It took a few months to get settled (figure out my resources, develop a routine, get my research on track, etc.), but it became a comfortable and familiar life that I love. Yet only a year later, it is time to put everything in suitcases. While I am excited to return home and see my family, it is difficult to think about the end of this chapter.

Rewards

The most rewarding experience I have had this year is my relationship with my supervisor. I spent a lot of time with her in and out of the lab, as well as on trips to meet with collaborators. She set a great example for me as an accomplished professor who overcame the challenges associated with being a woman in a typically male-dominated field. She became a mentor for my own scientific career and helped me answer many questions I have about entering a professorship.

Accomplishments

My greatest professional accomplishment is the scientific publications from my research here, but I think even more important are the skills I have learned and can apply to my PhD work. This year abroad was, in hindsight, the perfect transition from a bachelor’s student to a PhD student. It has allowed me to make the mistakes I did not even know I needed to make to be a better grad student. To put it plainly, I believe I will be able to “hit the ground running” when I start my PhD work this September.

Travel and Culture

Another important part of my experience here has been traveling and cultural exchange. The people I have met and the countries I have visited have given me new insight into intercultural communication and international relations. I also have a newfound appreciation for the culture, food, people, traditions, land, and language(s) that makes each country unique. Even after being here for a year, I still find it amazing that from any point in Europe, one can be in a completely new environment after no more than a few hours on a train.

Bone Chapel in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

The inside of the "Bone Chapel" in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. In 1870, a wood carver was asked to turn the bones of 40,000 people buried at the site of the chapel into creative works of art. The bones had already been removed from their resting places in the 16th century to make room for more corpses. Some say the artist took his task a little too far, but now we are left with a very unique piece of art!

Takeaways

All in all, I highly recommend that students consider applying for a Fulbright scholarship. What I learned this year has redirected some of my goals, reaffirmed others, and also created new directions, which I think is an important process to go through as a student.

Advice

If I can give one piece of advice to students selected for a Fulbright scholarship, it is to take it! I applied for graduate school the same year as the Fulbright scholarship and I grew so excited about graduate school, I was unsure if I would accept a Fulbright scholarship if one was offered to me. As soon as I arrived at my new home in Germany, I knew that I made the right decision, and that was before I knew what the year would bring. Now that my Fulbright experience is ending, I honestly cannot imagine having done anything else this year.

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