To preface: I love school. I used to cry each year on the last day of school in elementary school because I knew I would miss it so much.
As such, I don’t know why I was quite as surprised as I was to discover that an important, and time-consuming, part of studying abroad is, in fact, schoolwork. It is literally in the name of the activity: study abroad. I don’t know how I missed it.
At Freie Universität, I’m taking five classes total, including German language. While the work load is not overwhelming by any means, it did make me reevaluate my expectations about what my study abroad semester would entail: lots of fun, but some time in the library, as well.
I think this is a fairly common misconception that people have about studying abroad on the whole. They may think that the semester is a chance to completely throw academics out the window during their flight to their new city. As someone in the midst of studying for her midterm examinations, I can assure you that academics still are important here—though to be fair, I may very well be procrastinating for them as I write this.
Despite this, I am motivated to study by different things here. Back at my home university, I always put my best effort into my classes—or, at the very least, I try. As much as I would like to say that I am motivated only by an intense love of learning and consistently apparent perfectionism, a significant aspect of my motivation to do well in classes is for the sake of my GPA.
Here, things are much different. As my grades from my courses are not directly factored into my GPA back home, I have had to locate a different kind of motivation.
I study for German not because I am so incredibly passionate about the complex intricacies of German grammar and sentence structure. I study because I want to learn to connect better with more people in their native language. I broaden my vocabulary, learn how to vary my sentences, and work on bettering my pronunciation not to get an “A” and move on with my life, but to have longer and more interesting conversations with my host mom during dinner.
In my other courses, my school work helps keep me grounded here. It provides a consistency that I need right now, giving me a routine and a context for my stay here. It integrates me into the city in a way with which I am moderately familiar, letting me search for new cafes to read in and museums to write essays about.
While there is a great deal more to any study abroad experience than the hours spent in classes and the library, there is much more to them than I initially anticipated. I sometimes have to remind myself to study, only to realize that my learning is both in the classroom and in the city I discover more of every day.
Jenna is a student at Siena College and an official API student blogger. Jenna is currently studying abroad with API in Berlin, Germany.