Originally published in the “Friends of the International Center, UCSD” Newsletter, Volume XV No. 6, February 1988.
by Chris Borton
I grew up in an internationally-minded family: following my father’s profession in international agricultural economics, I lived portions of my childhood in Ethiopia and the Philippines and also traveled extensively throughout southeast Asia. My mother, who is Dutch by origin, speaks many languages; she and my grandmother speak German at home. This prompted me, while attending junior high and high school in Davis, to take German instruction and to attend a German Summer Camp, first as a camper and later as a counselor.
When I entered UCSD in 1983, I had no intention of going abroad for a year, but I discovered early on that taking only technical classes for my Computer Science major drained me. The refreshment needed was a humanities course each quarter to balance out my load. After a year of European history, I discovered and really liked German Literature. However, it was not until the summer before my third year that Fred, a longtime friend from German Camp who went to Göttingen on EAP in 1981, convinced me to apply to the Education Abroad Program.
During my second year at UCSD I made a friend through volleyball named Waldemar, who was here on an EAP exchange. While preparing to go to Göttingen, I often thought to myself that I would have to contact him once there. To my great surprise, who was waiting for me as an orientation leader as I stepped off the bus at the "Siedlung" dorm? Waldemar. That was a nice start, another was meeting my friend Mike Scanlin (who had spent the past year on EAP in York) that same evening in Göttingen. He stayed with me my first week there and provided a nice buffer to my immersion in a new culture.
After the first week of orientation, we spent six weeks in an intensive language course, involving 25 hours of classroom exposure per week, as well as additional homework. We covered many far-ranging topics in this course and I learned quite a bit about different aspects of German culture and government, such as its extensive welfare network. This was also a time for getting to know other EAP students and exploring the city itself.
Upon completion of the language course and before the start of the semester, we had two free weeks. Thus in late September, I was able to go to Scandinavia. In Denmark, I stayed with the family of one of my mother’s friends from high school days in Holland. They showed me all around the island, Sæland, and I had a marvelous time learning about Scandinavian history. From there I traveled to Oslo, where I enjoyed meeting people and spent one night folk dancing. I then visited Göteborg, Sweden, for three days before returning to Göttingen.
I plunged right into the semester by taking an intensive Latin course, medieval German, and architectural history of early baroque Venice. I had not planned to take any computer courses, since the university doesn’t have a computer science department, but I was curious enough about a course offered through the economics department in operating systems to ask the professor what it was about. After. telling him about my experience at UCSD, he asked me if I would like to work in the computer center. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. After two weeks in the computer center, I moved next door to the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, where they had a need for someone with Macintosh skills. For the remainder of the year I worked 15-25 hours a week, maintaining several small computer systems.
During our two week Christmas vacation, I visited the family of another of my mother’s high school friends. They live in Krinau, a tiny village southeast of Zürich, in Switzerland. When I asked several people what the population was, the answer amusingly was always the same: “Oh, about 256.” I was also told that I was the first American to visit the village in 100 years. I had many amazing experiences, often of the type "Naw, that doesn’t happen any more!" For example, every night one of the four kids in the family took two pails, went up the street, and got milk for the following day, fresh from the vats at the dairy. I learned to sled and bobsled, literally at the front door.
Since every member of this family is musical, hardly a minute went by when some duet wasn’t being played. Luckily, I had brought my viola and was able to join in the music making. I will never forget being part of a performance of a Händel Concerto Grosso on Christmas Day in the village church.
This time was a linguistic dream for me. The Swiss family has four children. They all know Dutch, since their mother often speaks it at home. Also visiting was a Dutch family with two children, 14 and 16. The parents spoke German, Dutch and English with me, while the kids often spoke English. This amazed me— the 14-year old girl had already learned enough in school and from hearing TV that she could converse with me in English. When the Swiss kids brought friends over, they were likely to speak "Switzer- deutsch." The net result was a wonderful mixture of several different languages, which I did my best to soak up as much as possible.
We were all housed in a huge, six-story wood house, dating from 1720, which was an experience in itself. I stayed until after "Silvester," (the German name for New Year’s Eve), when two daughters in the family put on a puppet show of one of the Grimm folk tales; this was truly special, for everything was handmade. After that I headed back to Göttingen, where I had a month before finals started.
The semester ended on 13 February, but theirs is a different system—vacation there is more precisely a lecture-free time, not a work-freetime. I spent the two weeks after officially finishing the semester working on my term paper for my architecture class, and stayed around Göttingen until the first week of March for a Computer Fair in Hannover. I then left with a co-worker for Holland; I always find it refreshing to be in Holland after Germany, because the people are so cosmopolitan. The rest of my semester break I spent visiting friends in the United Kingdom. I have long been interested in Welsh mythology, so finally visiting the area, Aberystwyth, proved very rewarding. I then spent a week on the west coast of Scotland on a ranch; this area is gorgeous and reminded me quite a bit of Norway and the northern California coast.
Having heard many stories about hitchhiking (hitching) in the U.K., I was anxious to try it and indeed had some wonderful experiences. On my last leg to York, with 20 miles to go, a couple picked me up and said they could bring me halfway. Fine with me. When halfway came, the woman asked If I would have time for perhaps a cup of coffee. That was also fine with me I so I helped bring in the groceries and was very surprised and pleased when she fed me a complete lunch. To top it off, instead of just bringing me back to the main road, she drove me all the way to York and dropped me off with instructions to where I wanted to go. This type of experience really made my year worthwhile.
In March, the students at Göttingen went on strike for most of the semester. This is a funny concept for me as an American—students protesting budget cuts by shutting down the school—but so it went. When Spring finally came with some nice weather I made several field trips with neighbors and friends, usually on bikes, into the surrounding countryside. Such outings helped in getting to know people well, something which was not easy at first.
Truly the most memorable time of my year abroad were the last two weeks spent in Holland. I attended a folk dance camp located at Kasteel Eerde, an 18th century hunting-Iodge castle turned international school, where my mother grew up. So, I prowled about my mother’s old haunts, getting to know the place. However, most of the time we were dancing and playing folk music. While I knew some German folk dances, here we did primarily Balkan dances; so I was busy learning a whole flurry of new steps. Everyone at the camp, except for me, was from Holland. By applying my knowledge of German and English, I was able to understand and to carry on rudimentary conversations in Dutch by the end of the session.
This entire experience was so wonderful, that I seriously began to consider graduate study at the University of Amsterdam. Shortly after arriving home in Davis, I was urged to apply for a Rotary Club International scholarship. To my delight, I have been awarded one of these scholarships for a year’s study in Amsterdam. Thus, I will be there in 1988-89 and plan to return the following year "under my own steam" to complete my work toward a Master’s degree in Computer Science.