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Germany study abroad group enjoys taste of life as Leuphana University students

The Germany study abroad group from UTRGV took in the sites of Berlin during their trip, including the restored Reichstag building, reopened in 1999 after German reunification to house Parliament. Joining them are fellow Leuphana University study abroad students from Texas A&M Kingsville and Louisiana State University, Shreveport. (Courtesy Photo)

By Cheryl Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – AUG. 12, 2016 – Thirteen students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley made the most of every minute during their two-week study abroad class in Germany this summer.

Accompanied by Dr. Reto Felix, assistant professor of marketing in the UTRGV School of Business and Entrepreneurship, the group flew to Hamburg, then boarded a train for the hour’s ride to Lüneburg, where they began their May 2016 adventure as students at Leuphana University.

“The focus of this course is immersion in the culture and overall living conditions of the host country – to experience and study it from the standpoint of the economy, the legal system, business practices, social norms and the culture in general,” Felix said.

Melina Carmona, a mass communication senior from San Juan, discovered daily life in Lüneburg was unlike what she was accustomed to at home. Her first challenge was learning how to navigate a bicycle in busy traffic on her way to class every day, from the apartment she shared with a host student.

“The people there are used to doing things a bit different than Americans,” Carmona said. “They use bikes as their main transportation. And they walk a lot. And they separate their trash into plastic, organic and paper.”

Culture shock is to be expected during study abroad, Felix said.

“Culture shock is not necessarily a negative connotation; it’s just realizing ways of doing things are different and noticeable,” he said. “We do not immediately understand everything about life in another country – and we may not like everything – but this is part of the experience. Students need to experience a little bit of shock, and get a little out of their comfort zone.”

When not in the classroom, the students travelled to sites of interest, where they witnessed both the beauty and sadness of the past juxtaposed with 21st century Germany.

Day trips included a visit to the Autostadt, or Automobile City, adjacent to the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, about an hour and a half drive from Lüneburg.

The most sobering field trip for everyone was the visit to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp, located about halfway between Lüneburg and Hamburg.

“The concentration camp tour was very emotional,” said Alex Silva, a marketing senior from Edinburg. “It’s astonishing that humans could carry out something of that magnitude. There was so much to see and a lot to soak in, and just standing there made me feel uneasy. It is a wonderful memorial that I intend to visit again someday on my own.”

Felix said studying about the Holocaust is imperative for future generations, and to see a camp in person makes an indelible impression on visitors.

The students spent their days in classes with professors from Leuphana University and guest speakers from outside consulting agencies. Lectures covered the gamut from international business negotiation to employer liability and renewable energy.

Most lunches took place in the university mensa, or canteen, and dinners were at a variety of local eateries.

“Breakfast in Germany usually is small and consists of toasted bread, jam and tea,” Carmona said. “Lunch is big and full of protein and carbs, with a lot of veggies. And their supper is something small again. In South Texas we are used to Mexican food, so our portions are larger and the diet is not as healthy.”

The group made an overnight field trip to Berlin, where they visited historic sites, including the Brandenburg Gate, and they spent several hours at the Story of Berlin, an interactive museum and multimedia show.

“The Story of Berlin museum was great,” Silva said. “The amount of history in that city is staggering. The division of the city was evident in everyday life for the citizens. Chunks of the wall were in the museum and the difference between both sides is extremely evident.”

About half an hour’s drive outside the center of Berlin, the students visited Potsdam, where the leaders of the Allied Powers met to negotiate terms for the end of World War II. The group reflected on the historical significance of the two weeks of discussions by the “Big Three” while having a glimpse into the wealth and power of the Kingdom of Prussia, evident in Sanssouci, the former summer palace and gardens of Frederick the Great.

Saturday night in Berlin found the group making the scene at a popular club.

“They had something like five different sections playing different types of music ranging from hip-hop to international to techno,” Carmona said. “We were all over the place, dancing and having the time of our lives – an awesome experience.”

Silva laughed when recalling how he “attempted to dance” but mainly just “moved my body as best as I could.”

The Leuphana University study abroad program is a long-time favorite summer trip that originated 10 years ago at UTRGV’s legacy university UT Pan American. Felix, a native of Germany who joined the UTPA faculty in 2013, was the escorting professor this year. He said he looks forward to continuing the program.

“The Leuphana University program offers the added value of experiencing life there as a student,” Felix said. “Students live in a university dormitory or apartment, or some choose to live with a family, ride a bike or bus to campus, eat lunch at the campus cafeteria. This gives everyone a personal look at life as a student in a medium-size German city.”

Carmona and Silva shared the group’s adopted mantra, picked up from their Leuphana University professors: It is not better; it is not worse; it is just different.

For more information regarding study abroad opportunities, contact International Programs and Partnerships at IPP@utrgv.edu. IPP is part of the Office of Global Engagement.

Taking in the sites of Berlin, the UTRGV Germany study abroad group paused on a footbridge in the Tiergarten, Berlin’s 520-acre inner-city park, as they walked from the Reichstag building to the Berlin Victory Column. Joining them are fellow Leuphana University study abroad students from Texas A&M Kingsville and Louisiana State University, Shreveport. Front row, left, are UTRGV’s Dr. Retro Felix, and TAMU Kingsville’s Dr. Hans Schumann.

Taking in the sites of Berlin, the UTRGV Germany study abroad group paused on a footbridge in the Tiergarten, Berlin’s 520-acre inner-city park, as they walked from the Brandenburg Gate to the Berlin Victory Column. Joining them are fellow Leuphana University study abroad students from Texas A&M Kingsville and Louisiana State University, Shreveport. Front row, left, are UTRGV’s Dr. Retro Felix, and TAMU Kingsville’s Dr. Hans Schumann. (Courtesy Photo)

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Cheryl.Taylor@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Senior Editor
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