As a radio journalist for Germany’s Foreign Service broadcaster Deutsche Welle, I worked in Bonn, Germany, the former capital of West Germany. Bonn is no Berlin, but it’s just a half hour train-ride from Cologne. Plus it’s built along both sides of the Rhein, and in summer there’s almost nothing better than sitting in a meadow watching the Rhein ships float by under the sunset.
I ended up in journalism and at Deutsche Welle in particular as a direct result of being a German major at Wheaton. Like a lot of students at Wheaton I had no idea what I wanted to study…I mean, we all change so much in college it’s pretty hard to say with any certainty, “That's I want to do/be for the rest of my life.” I know it happens (it did for some of my friends), but for most of us, we end up just having to pick something we like the most and go with it. That’s how I ended up being a German major (Theology minor). I got to the end of my sophomore year, still unsure of what I wanted to go into. But when I thought about the classes I enjoyed and the classes I wanted to keep taking, most of them were German classes taught by Herr Shaffer. I loved literature and history, and I loved the challenge of trying to learn about those things in the context of a foreign language…it set me apart in a lot of ways and became part of my identity; because, honestly, how many people do you know who speak and/or read and write German? Probably not many.
Anyway, deciding to join forces with Herr Shaffer, Frau Schreiber, and the spirits of Goethe, Schiller, and Loriot meant finding a way over to Germany. And my first experience in the land of my forefathers (we're pretty sure that my mom’s family, the Otts, were Bavarians) was the Summer of 2005 with Wheaton in Germany. It was heiss when we got off the plane in Munich, and I’ll never forget the first day. To actually be in Germany, surrounded by German speakers, German signs, and German food (and we’re including Döner in that category) was pretty overwhelming. But overwhelming in a great way. I remember us huddled together in the Munich Hauptbahnhof with our giant backpacks strapped to our backs, waiting timidly for Herr Shaffer (aka C-Hund) to hand out our very first Euros. To save money that first week I bought an enormous loaf of bread from a Turkish baker and ate just bread for three days straight. I quickly decided that wasn’t the best plan and opted for other delicious German cuisine.
After Wheaton in Germany I stayed in Berlin to do a Study Abroad semester with the organization IES. My time in Berlin (the world’s coolest city in my opinion) got me thinking about coming back to Germany after graduation.
Several months before I was going to walk across the Edman Chapel stage, Herr Shaffer sent me a note saying he’d heard about an internship in Bonn with Deutsche Welle Radio. He knew I’d worked at WETN (the College's radio station) for a couple years and thought it might be an interesting option. I thought about it, and initially decided it wasn’t what I was looking for, since it wasn't in Berlin. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it might be the best way for me to get back to Germany. So, I applied, and to my surprise Deutsche Welle was pretty enthusiastic about me coming on board as a paid intern.
I’m not going to lie and say living and working in Germany was a walk in the park, because it wasn’t. Trying to find an apartment and get work visas and pay German taxes and rent and all those grown-up things, in another language, was a big headache. But it was good for me. It gave me a lot of confidence, knowing that if I can do all of that in Germany in German, I can do it anywhere. And my work experience as a journalist was great too. I went from basically no real journalism experience to being thrown onto the air literally within my first couple weeks of working as an intern. Over the course of two years I worked my way up from being an intern to free lancing to finally last year landing a contract with our Current Affairs department. I covered a lot of German and European news, but I also got to do a lot of outside, field reporting. Here’s an example:
NLMaibäume (MP3 audio)
We broadcast in English, and most of the day I was speaking and working with other English-speakers (Brits and Australians mostly), but outside of work I had mostly German friends: apartment mates, church friends, random acquaintances.
Being a German major at Wheaton has really, truly shaped the course of my life (in almost all good ways). And if you’re on the fence about it, I would say go for it. When you commit to being a major it really forces you out of the nest in a lot of ways…i.e. you have to spend time in Germany…and by spending time in Germany, especially living there, you’ll see the world in a completely different way… which, to me, is really the most exciting thing about life anyway.