The Dortmund experience at Lehigh: Cheese, Travel and Homework
By Courtney Buchanan, ‘13
Cheese is what comes to Vera Kruger’s mind when she thinks of American food: “Everything has cheese on it.”
When she ordered pizza and salad, she was shocked by the cheese overload. Instead of the little green salad that she expected, she received a large salad with a mountain of cheese on top. Not only was the amount of cheese overwhelming, the size was huge. One meal for Americans was two meals for her.
Food is just one of the ways that Kruger, a 25-year-old exchange student from Dortmund University, is experiencing the cultural differences between the U.S. and Germany. Living and studying in a different country exposes exchange students to a variety of new experiences and opportunities for growth.
Maurice Kurz, who is also from Dortmund University, said, “To do a semester abroad here is good for me to broaden my mind, not only on my academic skills but also on my personal skills.”
Kurz, 25, loves the opportunities to experience the American culture during his semester at Lehigh. Engaging in an exchange program at Lehigh isn’t only an academic discovery, it’s a personal enrichment. Through interacting with the American culture, Kurz and Kruger are creating a unique American study abroad experience for themselves.
Kruger’s favorite part of studying abroad is traveling. Philadephia, New York City, Boston, Washington and Niagara Falls are just the start of her list. She said she forms a new vision of each city that is distinct from her previous impression formed by pictures.
“For me I cannot say that I like this city the most because every city has its own character and so it’s hard to compare them,” said Kruger. “In New York I like that everything is so huge and there are so many people. But on the other hand in Niagara Falls, the nature is so great.”
While Kruger has explored major cities, Kurz has focused on engaging with the local community. Since arriving in the U.S. in August, Kurz visited New York City, saw “a real American fest” at Musikfest, enjoyed the diversity of cultures at Celtic Fest and attended various athletic games including field hockey, football, soccer and volleyball.
“It’s a great thing to meet other different people and to get out of the German routine,” he said. “I see new places, I see new people.”
While there are many similarities among the American and German cultures, a contrast lies in the way that class is taught. In Germany students are required to be more independent and self-motivated because the professors merely provide materials, distinct from the hands-on approach in America in which the professors teach the material.
“You are more independent in Germany,” said Kruger. “Here it is a lot like a school system. You have to do homework and tests and quizzes and final exams.”
The only evaluation of knowledge in Germany is at the end of the semester with final exams, excluding midterms and homework throughout the semester. Because the entire grade depends on one exam, students have the liberty to study every day or cram everything in at the end of the semester.
Kruger prefers the American system because the grade doesn’t only depend on the final exam. “If you are studying continuously and doing it the whole semester, it’s not so much,” she said. “In the end in Germany it’s so much that if you aren’t studying so much you might get problems because it’s a huge amount to learn.”
While there is the benefit of spreading the grade out among homework, quizzes and final exams, Kruger said the downside is that if she wants to do fun things with friends, she has to think about her obligation to do homework for the next day.
In addition to having a different grading system, Lehigh’s classes have a broader and more basic scope compared to those at Dortmund. Kruger and Kurz are studying for their Masters in Chemical Engineering. Classes at Lehigh are more general than the in-depth nature of the classes at Dortmund, said Kurz. Kruger agreed: “Here we cover more the surface but sometimes we go deeper inside. They are dealing with the easier problems.”
The Dortmund perspective of Lehigh brings out the emphasis on large portions of food, the splendor of travel and the distribution of work.