The IU Honors Program in Foreign Languages (IUHPFL) was truly a life-changing and opportunity-creating experience for me. Before spending six weeks in Krefeld, Germany during the summer of 2008, I didn’t have much experience living away from home and taking part in something that was new to me. I was much more comfortable spending the summer on my living room couch or on my high school’s tennis courts than in a foreign country, but after some strong encouragement from my high school German teacher, I put my fears aside and set out on the adventure of a lifetime.
Taking this leap of faith and deciding to spend a summer living in a foreign country changed how I viewed the world and myself. First, having the opportunity to live with a host family and simply take part in the normal routines of everyday life in a new culture taught me to appreciate our world as a vastly eclectic and interesting collection of people and practices. Some of my fondest memories include simply going to the grocery store with my host mom, taking part in family barbeques, and enjoying a night in with my two host brothers playing video games and meeting their friends.
That isn’t to say that interacting with my fellow Krefeld students from America and taking part in exciting excursions to Berlin and Cologne weren’t a great part of my time in Krefeld—many of my favorite moments were made by meeting these people and visiting these cities. However, being able to interact with my host family, improve my German with their help, and learn how they live each day was simply fascinating to me. I learned to love the everyday German culture—whether it was slipping a 50-cent Euro coin into a shopping cart to be able to take it into the store or enjoying a weekend breakfast of various meats, cheeses and fresh bread—and I knew from my time in Krefeld that I wanted to someday make this culture my own.
It wasn’t only experiencing these day-to-day practices that made my time in Krefeld so exciting and worthwhile, however, but also how this experience made me more independent. Simply taking the bus home by myself each day from school, purchasing fast food, or successfully telling the hairdresser how to cut my hair in German helped me gain more self-confidence. If I could survive and interact with others in a foreign country, I thought to myself, then I was definitely capable of traveling the world or maybe even someday living on my own without mooching off of my parents and their culinary expertise. This program taught me that I could be self-sufficient. I knew that I was capable of learning, exploring, and taking a leap of faith that leads to new and exciting opportunities.
Since my time with the IU Honors Program, I have gone on to study German, along with economics, at the university level and have since secured a full-time position in Berlin. If I hadn’t studied in Krefeld during the summer of 2008, I know that none of this would have been possible. Not only would my German not be at the level that it is today, but I also would have never had the confidence to try and move to a foreign country to work and live. I would have stayed in my comfort zone and never developed the love and passion for the German language and culture that I have now.
Overall, the IU Honors Program truly changed the direction of my life. For students who are still considering whether to take part in this program, I would offer the following piece of advice: take that leap of faith! You’ll be surprised how much you’re capable of! And for those who have already decided to go on this adventure of a lifetime: be open-minded, spend as much time as possible with your host family, and be sure to soak it all in. This experience is what you make of it, and if you make the most of it, this first summer abroad likely won’t be your last.