Time’s syncopation and international diversity
It’s been a month now that I’ve been in Vallendar, Germany at WHU. Sometimes a week feels like a day, sometimes like a year – both in a good way. The now familiar rhythm of classes, gym workouts, music jam sessions, cooking hangouts, and trip planning can make a week fly by. Then a spontaneous two-day adventure to Luxembourg makes one week feel like multiple. It was in Luxembourg where I realized that the friends I was traveling with I had only met two and a half weeks prior, although it felt like I had known them for much longer. Time is engaging in some fascinating, syncopated rhythms.
Here in Vallendar I don’t have class every single day like at UMD, but there is always so much going on. Besides the two-day excursion to Luxembourg, I’ve had the chance to explore the nearby area, visiting Koblenz across the Rhein, the castle Burg Eltz, my grandma in Heidelberg, family friends and the Haribo store in Bonn. Last weekend most exchange students (Tauschies) took an overnight bus to Munich for a day at the Oktoberfest, this weekend I am off to Amsterdam with five others, two weeks later are the first quarter exams, the next weekend I am in Munich again, and the week after that a large group of us is hopefully heading to Budapest. Besides traveling, we are busy on campus with networking opportunities, career fairs, school sports, exchange student-led events, and other initiatives (hopefully the band I am organizing can put on a show by the end of the semester).
In the midst of all of the opportunities, I am grateful every day for the international diversity present in the Tauschies group. We are 114 students from 26 countries. I realize this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to meet students from (almost) all over the world, with similar passions and unique backgrounds. It is an extraordinary learning experience. When I return from study abroad, imagining all of the cities around the world where I have friends and professional connections is quite mind-boggling. What I also love is WHU’s commitment to international diversity: every WHU student must study abroad, which means that local students want to get to know the Tauschies as well because a large group of their fellow classmates is abroad at some point. I remember attending Ian Bremmer’s feature in the 2019 Center for Global Business Annual Forum last spring. The takeaway that always comes to find from this event is when Bremmer stated his firm belief that every student should study abroad.
After the initial icebreakers and orientation events at the beginning of the program, I made an effort to pay attention to how friend groups formed. I began to see that most of the time students from the same country – or at least who spoke the same language – spent a lot of time together. The Italians hung out in a tightknit group; the Singaporeans had their own; I found myself joining a group of primarily Dutch, French, Danish, Canadian, American, and Australian friends. After the first week, I heard someone say that one of the friend groups in which everyone was from the same country of origin never wanted to speak to us, and always just spoke their own language instead of English. The first time I heard this observation I did not really think much of it. When I heard it the next time, I let it sink in. Why should that group be blamed for that? It is completely normal to hang out with people who speak a language that you speak as well. And they could say the exact same thing about us, that we aren’t making an effort to speak to them either. It’s a two-way street.
I already wanted to get to know people very different from me through study abroad, and this encounter heightened my desire. Some of the traditions at WHU have helped me do so. A few weeks back we participated in the International Dinner, in which each student brings a dish that is typical of their home country and introduces the dish and cultural significance on stage in front of all of the other Tauschies. Afterwards, we all enjoyed the meals in WHU’s cellar located in one of the main campus buildings. Another initiative, Tauschie Tuesdays, allows groups of Tauschies to cook a meal from their culture or background and then sell it to other Tauschies and local students. All of the proceeds go towards a celebration that is organized at the end of the semester.
As we continue to travel near and far, engage with the local students, and get to know our fellow Tauschie students, I hope to make use of this special opportunity to meet and learn more from students coming together at WHU from around the world.