In the fall of 2019, Dr. Mark and Dr. Laura Phillips embarked on a semester long journey with a group of students on a study abroad trip to Leipzig, Germany. If you are interested in studying abroad, or simply hearing about the adventures that happen abroad, Dr. Laura Phillips has given us a beautiful recap of what it looks like to immerse yourself in a different culture for an extended period of time. Thank you to Riley Simpson, junior management major from Dripping Springs, TX, who studied in Germany with the Phillips for the amazing photos in this blog post.
“The students all took 6 hours of German through a local language school that was about a 30-minute walk or a 20 minute tram ride from the villa. We had class in three hour blocks and class met either two or three times per week. The classes were taught by native German speakers, which was great. (I took the German classes with the students.) All the students also took the Global Studies class which covers German history and culture. Mark taught that class and the in-class materials were supplemented with guest speakers and field trips within Leipzig as well as trips to Berlin, Wittenburg (important in the story of Martin Luthur and the reformation), and Weimar (where we visited Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp).”
There were also several business classes offered, including: Principles of Marketing, International Business, and Life Design, a class taught by both Mark and Laura as an honors colloquium and one hour business course. Students were allowed to take any online classes they wanted to add to their schedule. Most classes were taught at the villa in Leipzig, but they would also occasionally meet for field trips. These included: Spin Lab, a startup business accelerator, Blüthner Pianos, and the BMW factory
I asked Mark and Laura to recap their semester abroad and this was Laura’s response:
”How do you recap an entire semester abroad? A few things I can share that may give you a flavor of the trip/experience.
- We went to Berlin as a group after the students had been in Leipzig one week. Our trip was three days and we were able to see and do some very interesting things. Even after having lived in Leipzig for only a week, at the end of our Berlin trip multiple students expressed how glad they were to get back “home.”
Founded in 1853, Blüthner Piano is one of a handful of ultra high-end piano makers on earth. We learned about the company, oddly enough, at church in Leipzig, where we met an American who worked for Blüthner in California and now heads their marketing efforts. An hour-long series of bus rides (including one stop where some of our people failed to get off) took us to the factory. There we had free access to walk through and see how deluxe pianos have been hand-built since the 1800’s. Today the company is seeing growth in demand from China, even as Europeans and Americans are less interested. It has also added a second line of less expensive pianos for those unwilling to pay the premium their brand can still charge.
As American companies and their customers battle back and forth over privacy, the European Union has moved much more quickly to protect consumers. And the demand for privacy is even more vocal in former East Germany, where for decades the government and a vast network of citizen spies kept tabs on everyone. At the height of the Cold War, 1 in 8 East Germans was spying on other East Germans for the secret police; part of the current resistance to Christianity there is because so many clergy were revealed to have been informing. Leipzigers are very uncomfortable having strangers take their pictures, and children are strictly protected (we hosted a group of children from a nearby school for a meal and only the school’s designated photographer was allowed to shoot pictures. American companies doing business here must move carefully in order not to offend.
- Over the course of the semester we all found some favorite cafés, restaurants, and parks.
- We became comfortable interacting with a city where all the signs are in German. Students who traveled outside of Germany for long weekends expressed how comforting it was to get back to the airport or train station in German and hear people speaking German again (even though we still couldn’t understand much of it).
- We had students who used their travel weekends and week to explore other regions of Germany as well as hit a number of other destinations in Europe, but it was cool because they didn’t just explore the normal destinations of London, Paris, Rome. They also went to Budapest, Vienna, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, Milan, Pisa, Florence, and some less well-known destinations in Switzerland and Norway. Several of the students even rented cars and took road trips!
- We had a good sized group of students who became very involved at ICF–the church to which Lindsay (who lives on site at the villa) belongs. They became involved and connected even though the services were in German!
- We experienced true German culture by attending a Red Bull soccer game and participating in the crowd chant that occurs after every goal. We had numerous chances to practice the chant because Leipzig won 8-0! We also attended an orchestra concert (the Leipzig orchestra has been a performing group for over 200 years!) and a handball match. Over the course of the semester groups of students attended concerts and/or the ballet (Nutcracker) on their own.
- At one point some students from the Oxford group came to Leipzig to visit. Our students were surprised at how tentative the visitors were because of the language difference (which they hadn’t experienced in Oxford). Until then I don’t think our students realized how much they had grown because of the difference in languages and how comfortable they had become in spite of it. Knowing they can live and thrive in a country that speaks a different language gave them more confidence as they headed out to
explore other destinations.”
In their time abroad, the Phillips made sure to build time in to go on interesting excursions to different countries and experience different culture, one of these being Greece. “Greece was amazing. It came at a great time in the semester. We had just finished our first “semester” of German and the weather was getting cooler in Germany. It was awesome to take a break from classes and spend 10 amazing warm, sunny days in Greece! We saw super cool archaeological sites like the Acropolis, ancient Corinth, the ancient Olympic stadium in Olympia, the oracle of Delphi, etc. We had very knowledgeable tour guides that helped make each of these sites interesting and meaningful. We had a free day in each destination so we were able to explore the towns, hike, go to the beach, rent a boat, and so on.”
“Whatever we did during the day, whether it was together or on our own, we regrouped for a meal together each evening. It was a good time to reconnect and share stories from the day.” Next, they adventured to Prague and integrated what they had learned to what they were seeing. “We took a four day group trip to Prague late in the semester. For this trip the students served as tour guides for the different sites we visited. They prepared their research and then delivered their information to the rest of the group as we took a walking tour around the city. At one site a couple of women from Italy were sitting on a bench nearby. As our student went through her spiel, they held up numbers on their phones, rating her presentation. It was fun to interact with other people who were seeing the same cool sites that we were. In Prague we had our family meal at a Mexican restaurant! It was fun to have some “familiar” food in a far away place!”
As with anything, there are always cool, funny, interesting, and strange stories to tell. Halloween was no exception to for the bunch. “We planned to have a pumpkin carving activity on October 30th so that afternoon we headed to the store as a very large group to pick out pumpkins. Lindsay said there were plenty in a big box outside the store but when we arrived, there were no pumpkins. We went to two other stores (as a very large group) but no luck. We ended up having to go back to the first store and the students picked out various things, such as small cooking pumpkins, butternut squash, and in one case two cabbages! Needless to say the carvings were interesting and unique and the students did an awesome job of improvising. Halloween isn’t as big of a deal in Germany but the students wanted to trick or treat at the villa. To make this feasible, students could volunteer to be a ‘host’ or they could choose to trick-or-treat or do both or nothing. Everyone who wanted to trick-or-treat had to dress up and then the hosts spread out around the villa. Since just visiting five or six rooms and getting candy would take about 10 minutes, it became a trick-and-treat activity. There was an activity at each ‘house.’ Some of the activities included solving riddles, playing MarioKart, playing pictionary, writing and then reading a Halloween poem, and doing a TikTok. Two of the students dressed up as us!”
And it is no surprise that a few travel issues were involved:
- “On one of the early weekends, a group of girls made their hostel reservations for the wrong nights and ended up having to sleep in the common room of the hostel the first night.
- A group of guys took a camping trip in Norway. Two of the guys slept outside in hammocks and it was a bit chillier than they were prepared for.
- Coming back from a small German town by myself (with my bicycle) the train I was on split into two pieces. Only one half want back to Leipzig and I was on the wrong half. I discovered this when we arrived at a city I knew was the wrong direction from where I wanted to go. I had to get on another train back to where I started and try again!”
To end their time in Germany, there was a closing ceremony in which many of the students demonstrated their musical talents. “One of the students spoke and then at the end, four of them went up for the closing number and unexpectedly busted out with a very energetic version of ‘I Will Survive’. It caught us all off-guard but was hilarious and so awesome! The students could give you many more funny moments.”
Phillips ended with, ”It was a great semester of exploration, bonding with the group, game nights, devos, group meals, getting lost, being confused…”
-Laura Phillips + a ditto from Mark