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Q&A with another College Abroad student

Michelle in Japan

Michelle in Japan

Lest you think that I’m the only one that has made college abroad work and it isn’t something that you can take advantage of, today I’m posting a short interview with another American I met while in Germany who also got enrolled directly in a university overseas, which saved her thousands of dollars.  Her story is a lot like mine, except now she is teaching English in South Korea.  Going abroad for school has a tendency to instill a desire for some sort of international career, as I myself have discovered.  I want to feature others’ stories here on the blog because there was not enough space in the book to do so.  Thanks to Michelle Cosier for answering my questions and agreeing to let me publish it here.

 

When and where did you do college abroad?

I studied at Jacobs University in Germany from 2007-2009, where I studied International Communication, and now I’m teaching English in South Korea at a public middle school.  I plan to go back to Germany this summer.
What kind of program did you complete abroad?

The program was designed to attract graduate students from all different walks of the world.  The instruction was in English.  Usually we had daily seminars ranging from 3-5 seminars per week related to our particular program.  It wasn’t altogether that much different from an American graduate program.

 

Why did you decide to complete your degree abroad?

I decided to complete my degree abroad because the financial opportunity presented itself as a means for me to actually afford a Masters Degree.  Compare to the thousands of dollars I would have paid in the  U.S.A. Jacobs University offered me a full tuition scholarship.*  I also speak German and wanted to use the opportunity to become more fluent, needless to say I left speaking fluent German as well.

*The program didn’t technically charge tuition at all.  All students were given this “scholarship.”

 

Did you also apply to American degree programs?  What, in the end, made you decide to choose the foreign degree program as supposed to the American degree program?

I did not apply to any American degree programs.   In the end, the financial benefit and having an international degree was the reason I decided to go abroad.

 

What were your worries/concerns about getting a degree from a foreign university or living abroad before you left, if any?

The only concern I had, was…. Am I going to be able to complete the program?  I was putting myself in an unfamiliar education system, but what I learned was that it was on a similar scale as my U.S. university education so I became more confident.

 

How supportive were your close friends and family of your decision to do your degree abroad?  Did they have any particularly concerns about your decision?

My close friends and family were very supportive of my decision.  I had a few stragglers that were whining and nervous about me going, etc… but I just ignored them as I knew they had never really travelled before anyway.

 

Did doing your degree abroad save you money?

Yes, absolutely.  I had a fully covered tuition scholarship.**

**By not paying tuition, Michelle also saved money and avoided taking out more student loans.

What are the advantages of doing your degree abroad?

Broadening my worldview more than what it already was & meeting amazing friends who live all over the world.

What are the disadvantages?

Not seeing friends and family as often.

 

How did you pay for college abroad?

I had a scholarship*, and a college fund that I used to help me with my living expenses.  Also living in Germany with a residency permit and student visa I was able to work a little too.

*Michelle’s program didn’t charge any tuition.

How did you find your program?

http://www.daad.de.

Do you have any special tips for what to do or how to prepare to live and study abroad?

Keep your mind open… “you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Read a book about the culture in the country, go to the place you want to study first on a vacation, learn the language to make the most of your experience, make friends in your host c country.  Don’t stick around your own nationality all the time, and diversify yourself..

 

 Did you travel often outside of your host country while you were living abroad?

Yes!

 

What, if any, lasting impressions or life changes have resulted from getting your degree abroad that you think you would not have otherwise encountered?

I am able to impact and counsel others on making a similar decision.  I could have not made a better life-long impacting decision to go myself so why not share that with others.

 

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Foreign names…should we learn how to pronounce them as they are in their original language?

Foreign names…should we learn how to pronounce them as they are in their original language?

Today an article from the Washington Post appeared in my newsfeed which purported to be a correct pronunciation guide for several foreign leaders, countries, and cities that have been making headlines recently.  On the surface, the article is simply an educational tool but if you’ve spent much time abroad or if you’re multilingual or even if you’ve only begun to learn a foreign language, you know that pronunciation is perhaps the most difficult part of learning a new language, and therefore demanding that those who don’t even speak the language in question to properly pronounce foreign names is a pretty high bar to set.  Your ability to integrate into a foreign culture may hinge on your pronunciation; you may speak a language fluently but your accent or small pronunciation mistakes will give you away as a foreigner.  Furthermore, pronunciation is not straightforward–it is not simply learning how to sound like a native speaker since native speakers themselves will pronounce words differently.

I agree generally with the author’s premise–if you can learn how to pronounce a foreign leader’s name the way that person him/herself pronounces it, that is a sign of respect.  It also demonstrates a willingness to communicate across cultures even through a language barrier.   Yet at the same time, it is an integral feature of language to adapt proper names of foreign places and even people to the tongues of the speakers in question.  English speakers call Mexico, MEX-ee-ko, while Spanish speakers call it MEH-ee-ko.  English speakers call the country of which Berlin is the capital Germany, while Germans call it Deutschland, and Spanish speakers call it Alemania and Hungarian speakers call it Németorszag.  Theoretically we could eliminate all this confusion if we simply adopted the name of this country that the people of that country call it, but that still wouldn’t guarantee that all non-Germans would suddenly pronounce the word Deutschland correctly.  Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 9.53.17 PMHaving spent significant time in Israel, most streets in that country have three names: the Hebrew name, the Arabic, and the English.  Sometimes, the Arabic and English names are simply adapted versions of the Hebrew to make it somewhat easier for speakers of those languages to pronounce, and other times the streets are given completely different names depending upon the language.

My last name is Oberle, and it has German origins.  Germans pronounce it OH-bay-lay.  This very well be the “correct” German pronunciation but since my family immigrated to the US, the name has evolved into the following pronunciation:  OH-bir-lee, with a long “e” at the end.  This confuses most Americans, whose instinct is to pronounce it OH-BERL, assuming a silent “e” at the end.  Furthermore, my first name confuses the heck out of Germans.  I’ve been called Holy, Hilly, Hannah, Heidi and even Lolly.  The servers at the coffee shop I regularly went to in Berlin called me Charly.  I attended an event once in Hamburg that involved name tags, and although I had signed up on a website in which I had submitted my name in written form, they still got it wrong and printed “Cholli” on the name tag.  Since it was a get-to-know-you-type event, I was called Cholli by strangers the rest of the night.  It is annoying, yes, but why should I expect anyone to immediately know how to “correctly” pronounce my name, or how I myself pronounce it?  This is why I don’t think it is a big deal if English speakers mispronounce German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s name, preferring the English “Angela” with a hard “g” rather than the German “Angela” with a long “a” and a soft “g.”  (I think the pronunciation guide from the Washington Post actually misrepresents the pronunciation of Chancellor Merkel’s name, which demonstrates another pitfall: which dialect/pronunciation/accent is deemed authoritative?).  But I also think that if you know better (you speak the language, you’re a news anchor who is imbued with some authority over the correct pronunciation, you’ve spent time in the country), you should do your best to pronounce the way the person him/herself would pronounce it.  Especially when it comes to important world leaders, we should try to say their names correctly, but we can hardly criticize those that mispronounce it as long as they aren’t deliberately mispronouncing it to be demeaning.  For the longest time, my ex-boyfriend would say Budapest as so:  BOO-dah-pesht, pronouncing the “s” like an American “sh.”  I always thought he was making a mistake until I myself moved to Budapest and started taking Hungarian lessons.  Indeed, “s’s” in Hungarian are always pronounced with a “sh” sound, and my ex’s pronunciation of the Hungarian capital was indeed correct.  It goes against any English-speaker’s instinct to say the city’s name like this, and therefore I don’t think it is out of stupidity that Americans pronounce it incorrectly.  If it ever comes up in conversation, I try to gently teach my American friends how the city is supposed to be said.  And still, being exposed to a foreign name regularly doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it right.  I lived with my Turkmen roommate for two years, and I still have to say her last name, Abdurasulova, slowly to get it right.  There if only so much we can do to force our tongues to say unfamiliar words correctly.

After having my name mispronounced by people all over the world, I can hardly demand that Americans universally learn to pronounce foreign leaders’ names exactly.  I think there is also a place for Anglicized versions of cities and names, to a point.  But of course, we in the English-speaking world get a little spoiled because of the tendency to Anglicize foreign names.  There is no such effort to “Deutsch-ify” words to make them more friendly to the German tongue.  Still, English speakers should be exposed more often to foreign languages in order to slowly get a better idea of how to properly pronounce foreign places and proper names.  But I also think that language is dynamic and the pronunciation of words is in constant flux, and changing prononciation to fit a different tongue isn’t always a bad thing (like my family surely did).  What is “proper” today could be different a few decades down the line.  Therefore, foreigners should do their best to pronounce names correctly, but if you don’t it isn’t that you’re an uncultured untraveled stereotypical ugly American.  It isn’t only Americans mispronouncing foreign names.  After all, I’ve been Charly in Germany for 6 years.574566_10150978107096504_1330309779_n

What do you think?  Should foreigners always try to pronounce names the way a native speaker would?  Is that too much to ask?  Is Anglicized words a good practice or is it inauthentic?  Would you prefer that proper names from the original language become the name for that place all over the world (i.e. Germany becomes Deutschland no matter what language you speak)?