Barbecues and Book Clubs: A UW Student’s Year in Freiburg


Kara Payne is a senior majoring in German and International Studies. Her emphasis is on Culture in the Age of Globalization with certificates in East Asian Studies and European Studies. She studied in Freiburg, Germany for the 2008-2009 school year as part of the Academic Year in Freiburg (AYF) Program.

Why did you choose to study abroad in Germany?

I started German in middle school, and decided to major in it sometime during high school. Going to the country was the next step.

Where did you stay and what was it like?

I stayed in a hybrid of a dorm and an apartment called a Wohnheimgemeinshaft. There were ten people on my floor – five Germans and four international students – and a total of about 30 people in the building. Since we all got hungry around the same time I usually had dinner with at least one or two of my floor mates. When the weather was nice we had barbecues at least once a week. We also took to studying together on our floor’s balcony. I spoke only German with them. Overall it was a very friendly, lively place to live and there was always someone around to chat with.

What were you doing while there (studying, service learning, etc.)?

I took classes at the Albert-Lüdwig University of Freiburg. They were in German, although I did take one class at the English department about German stereotypes in American media. Great Class!

And when you weren’t studying, what did you do?

I traveled quite a bit. I made it to London, Munich, Berlin, Paris, Aix-en-Provence, and Prague, as well as smaller cities around Freiburg. I also joined a theater group called the maniACTs, and ended up stage managing a production for them. Through the Tandem Program I met with a couple Germans and we would go to a cafe, a movie, the park–I would help them with their English and they would help me with my German. I joined the Society for English Literature in Freiburg which sounds really fancy, but basically amounted to a book club. It was a lot of fun. Other than that, I mostly hung out at cafes or shopped, or went for a walk in the Black Forest.

What was one of the most jarring experiences you had there?

Munich - Oktoberfest
Munich - Oktoberfest

I got mildly lost when I first arrived in Germany. I had gotten on the train in Frankfurt and had made my connection in Mannheim -the “most difficult part” – perfectly (a nice German lady even helped me with my luggage). Then, I heard the announcer say “The next stop in Freiburg” and I thought “Yes! I’m here!” I got off the train, walked down the stairs and realized that something wasn’t right. I was in Offenburg, the train stop before Freiburg, and what the announcer had actually said was “This is Offenburg, the next stop is Freiburg!” I bought a new ticket, and hopped onto the next train, only to realize I had bought the wrong one. The whole thing was a misunderstanding of German, partly because I was tired from the plane ride and partly because I was just not use to listening to native Germans speak German.

Do you feel proficient in German?

Although I had around eight years of study before I left, I definitely did not feel proficient. My speaking ability was terrible. I feel I’m effectively fluent in German now, although complex literature might still give me a hard time.

Do you believe there is an importance in today’s world to be bilingual? What is the advantage of speaking German?

The world is only getting smaller, and as far as English will get you (pretty much everywhere) being familiar with another language is still extremely important. It broadens your mind, and gives you a whole new perspective. German is still a top business language (the German economy is one of the largest in the world) and it makes English make a whole lot more sense.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

In Germany teaching English! Or at least, that’s my plan. We’ll see what will actually happen.

Traveling by metro
Traveling by metro

What piece of advice would you give a person who is planning on traveling abroad?

Pack light! You’ll find you won’t need about half the stuff you bring.

Reported by Nina Gehan

For more student profiles, visit our Badgers Abroad Blog.