German social science students spend semester studying at UW-Stout

They enjoyed small class sizes, small city life and new experiences
Five students from Hochschule Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany, spent the fall semester at UW-Stout taking classes in their major. /UW-Stout photo by Pam Powers
Pam Powers | December 19, 2018

Five applied social science students from Hochschule Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany, spent the fall semester at University of Wisconsin-Stout taking classes in their major and improving their English skills.

Buhara Celik, Hannah Klemm, Laura Martell, Samantha Werens and Helin Ucar are all second-year students. UW-Stout has an applied learning mission similar to Hochschule Darmstadt’s. The students were given the option to study abroad at UW-Stout, UW-Platteville or University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

“We googled all the colleges,” Celik said. “We decided it was not that huge and we would not be lost in a new country.”

The five students arrived in Menomonie on Aug. 27. The semester ends with final exams Dec. 17-21. After the semester, they plan to travel to other parts of the United States.

While at UW-Stout they took psychology, quantitative research methods, qualitative research methods and either social theory or cultural anthropology.

“I think I was really surprised I liked the dorms,” Ucar said, noting they stayed in Jeter-Tainter-Callahan Hall. “You get to meet a lot of new people. We had thought about renting a house.”

The one thing that shocked the German students about the dormitories is they didn’t realize bedding and towels would not be available, but they were able to purchase them, Celik said.

In JTC they met other international students as well as American students. “If anyone was homesick, we could talk to each other,” Klemm said.

Tina LeeTina Lee, program director of the applied social science program, said Darmstadt professor Jan Barkmann visited UW-Stout last February. “The applied social science program there is similar to ours and includes a semester during which students have flexible schedules and are encouraged to go abroad,” Lee said. “We are able to offer the classes they need on the correct schedule, so the first students arrived this fall.”

The plan is to continue the exchange with Darmstadt, said Lee, who visited there in October and would like to see UW-Stout applied social science students visit there next spring. “I would like to encourage more students to go abroad, and they will be able to take classes they need at Darmstadt,” Lee said.

“The classes can be offered in English, and the institution is prepared to allow them to come a few weeks before the semester starts to get intensive German language training. Darmstadt is a nice city and very easy to navigate, and they get to use public transportation for free with a student identification.”

Darmstadt, known in Germany as the City of Science, has about 155,000 people and is south of Frankfurt in the central region of the country.

Chris Ferguson, associate professor, taught the five German students in Applied Social Science 300, quantitative research methods. Students cover statistical analysis, social network analysis and data visualization.

“I think my favorite thing about having them in class was their incredible positivity,” Ferguson said. “They came in every day and greeted me with a big smile and seemed very happy to be there and always were interested in chatting before and after class about life in Menomonie, the quickly decreasing temperatures outside, or their travel plans,” Ferguson said.Chris Ferguson

“It was also fun to think through examples I usually use in class in a different way. For instance, one of the data examples I usually use is a set of baseball statistics and salaries, and I realized about 10 seconds into class that day that we were going to have to have a crash course on baseball rules before we got into the data analysis or it wasn’t going to make any sense.  Similarly, one day we were using political data and we had to take a detour in explaining the structure of the Senate and House of Representatives. So, getting to see some of those things through a new set of eyes was fun for me too.”

Homework and quizzes

In Germany, students have two semesters a year and go to college for three years. Usually, they only have a final exam, which is different from American universities where students have homework, quizzes and class discussions, Klemm said.

“You get the content from the whole semester and then you have the test,” Martell said.

Werens noted in Germany students can manage their time, which is good. “The dangerous part is if you don’t make the time you have to do everything at the end of the semester,” Werens said.

Celik said she was surprised when just a week or two into classes a quiz was planned.

Education at UW-Stout is much more personal than in many German universities, where the classes are large, Klemm said. The applied social science major is relatively new so there are only about 50 students studying in it.

They definitely saw their English language skills improve over the course of the semester. They regret not learning more American slang to share with students back home.

When they arrived in Menomonie, they found the city smaller than they expected. “I really learned to love that,” Martell said. “You see people you know. Everyone is really friendly. I really like the community.” She loved the music played over loudspeakers in downtown Menomonie. “It gives you a feeling of home,” Martell added.

They also learned to love the nature in the area. “We regularly did a walk on Sundays along the Red Cedar River,” Celik said. “It was so beautiful.”

At UW-Stout, they enjoyed International Week and other activities helping them to experience life on campus.

Travel plans

After the semester, Celik and Klemm plan to visit San Francisco, drive to Los Angeles and spend New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas. Martell plans to go to Washington, D.C., and other parts of the East Coast including New York. Werens and Ucar want to visit New York and see many of the sites, including Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building, and may take a trip to Philadelphia too.

In 2015 UW-Stout and four other U.S. universities — UW-Platteville, Purdue, Penn State-Harrisburg and UMass-Lowell — took part in the German Academic Exchange, DAAD, Strategic Partnership Project with Hochschule Darmstadt. The $1,000,000 grant continued through this year. Werens visited UW-Stout as part of the grant.

Since the grant started, 17 UW-Stout faculty and staff have visited Darmstadt with seven Darmstadt faculty traveling to Menomonie. Faculty and staff participated in fact-finding missions, short-term lecturing, long-term lecturing, fairs and conferences and a president’s event that Chancellor Bob Meyer attended. Twenty-five UW-Stout students have studied in Darmstadt, and 11 German students have visited UW-Stout. The students participated in semester-long and short-term exchanges.

Prior to the grant, in 2013, a memorandum of understanding was signed between UW-Stout and Hochschule Darmstadt to promote student and faculty exchanges.

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.

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Photos

Five applied social science students from Hochschule Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany, spent the fall semester at UW-Stout taking classes in their major and improving their English skills. Pictured at top clockwise is Buhara Celik, Helin Ucar, Hannah Klemm, Samantha Werens and Laura Martell. /UW-Stout photo by Pam Powers

Tina Lee

Chris Ferguson