Over the summer between my junior and senior years at William & Mary, I completed a chemistry research internship at the University of Cologne through the DAAD RISE program. Throughout the summer, I worked with a PhD student who advised my project. Every morning, I met with him to discuss my goals for the day and then set up any reactions that I needed to run. Because each reaction stirred for several hours, I often left them running over our lunch break.
My lab group went to lunch at the Mensa every day at 11:30AM. Most days, our group leader joined us, providing me with an excellent opportunity to get tips for conducting my research as well as travelling around Cologne and other German cities. Our trip to the Mensa quickly became an integral part of my day.
After lunch, I returned to the lab, finished up the reaction I was running, and worked it up so that the product could be stored overnight until I returned the next morning. Often, at the end of the workday, I simply hopped on a train back to my apartment, prepared dinner for myself, and planned out the upcoming weekend’s excursion to another city. However, my favorite memories from my time in Cologne are times when I deviated from routine and met up with other interns to have dinner, drink a Kölsch, watch a Fußball game, and hang out. It was one of these evenings that I discovered Döner Kebap—the sandwich that has taken Germany by storm and stolen my heart.
Apart from my evenings exploring Cologne, I have incredible memories of all of the weekends I spent travelling in Germany. I competed in a half marathon in Hamburg, learned about Germany’s long history in Berlin, and sampled Bavarian sausages and pretzels in Munich. By the end of the summer, I felt confident that, if dropped in any random city, I could figure things out. Though I did experience some challenges both in research and while travelling during my summer in Germany, each challenge forced me to learn life lessons that I never could have learned in a classroom.
I am a junior majoring in German Studies at William and Mary. I am currently spending a year abroad studying Germanistik at the Westfaelische Wilhelms Universitaet in Muenster. Last year, I realized I would need to be proactive about improving my language skills before coming to school this Fall. I first applied to William and Mary summer programs in Germany, but quickly realized these programs were not financially sustainable for me. I immediately began searching for other options, and I came across a program called WWOOF. WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) provides its members volunteer opportunities working and living on organic farms. This means you work with a family for free, in exchange for food and stay.
This program sounded great for me. I could live in Germany for the summer, stay active and outdoors, and work on my language, all for the price of a plane ticket (plus some spending money). I started emailing families in the beginning of the Spring, and by the time the school year ended I was set up to work on two farms in Germany for the Summer! I decided to split time between two farms in June and July, one in the north of Germany and one in the south, to expose myself to different dialects. I ended up having amazing experiences on both farms. Some of the highlights include: Living with and bonding with families and fellow WWOOFers, taking care of farm animals (sheep, goats, chickens, etc.), landscaping, starting a new garden, learning to cook more for myself, traveling locally, experiencing a new landscape, canoeing, fishing, and of course improving my German.
- Start emailing early and often. Farms are receiving emails all the time and can only take so many people at a time. Getting connected early also gives time to set up what you will expect of each other as Host and Guest. Emailing in German also helps.
- (Maybe the most important part)
EXPECTATIONS: There should be no confusion about the living situation, amount and type of work expected, free time, etc. Remember that this program is completely voluntary on both ends. If one side is not meeting the expectations that were set, then either party has the right to end things.
- Try to find a farm with other WWOOFers or bring a friend! Farm life can become slow at times if you are the only person your age or the only one working every day. It would have been so much fun if I brought a friend, but the other WWOOFers and families I met were amazing and I learned about a variety of different cultures.
- Have an open mind! There were times when, due to language or cultural barriers, misunderstandings arose. Be understanding and know that things are not always how they initially appear.