The Columns

My W&L: Sommer Ireland ’15

— by on September 5th, 2016

Sommer Ireland '15

“Being abroad for so long really changed my perspective on many aspects of W&L, and made me appreciate it so much more.”

“Why German?”

As an economics and German major, I’ve had to answer this question dozens of times. Sure, I have my elevator pitch on why I decided to enroll in German for my language requirement, and why I’ve stuck with it for the past four years. But an elevator pitch captures neither the depth nor breadth of how I’ve come to love the language, country, culture and most importantly, the department. Being a part of the German department has shaped my W&L experience in ways I never would have thought possible.

I chose W&L based on three factors: the small class sizes, close relationships with the professors and the affordability of study abroad. I knew I made the right decision when I walked into my German 111 class as one of twelve students. The individual attention from Professor Crockett and his passion for the class left me at the end of the semester knowing I would at least minor in German. I solidified that by participating in an intensive language program in Münster, Germany, that following summer. Towards the end of my program, I received an email that one of the professors (one I had never had a class with) had found a grant for me and the other W&L student in the program. It was a complete (and very welcome) surprise, and more proof that the German department continually went above and beyond my expectations.

Coming back from Münster, I knew I wanted to go back to Germany as soon as possible. Again, the German department made those dreams a reality. Through our department’s partnership with the Universität Bayreuth, I was able to study in Germany for a semester the following summer for just the cost of my plane ticket and food. When I left W&L at the end of winter semester to start my time in Germany, I had no idea that it would be another 9 months before I would be back on campus. I followed up my semester in Bayreuth with the fall semester in Freiburg, Germany, studying the European Union. I learned so much in and out of the classroom that complemented not only my German major, but also my economics major.

Being abroad for so long really changed my perspective on many aspects of W&L, and made me appreciate it so much more. People were amazed when I told them about our Honor System and how it functioned. They were curious about why I chose to go to such a small school in a small town in Virginia. Germans were inquisitive about the Greek System and why I chose to be a part of it. The more questions I answered, the more I was able to think objectively about W&L and all the reasons why I love it so much.

Coming back from Germany was quite an adjustment, but again the German department was there to support me. I threw myself into the German club, participating in just about every event that we planned. I spoke to people interested in study abroad about my experiences. Despite spending so much time away, W&L was still here welcoming me back into the community with open arms.

While senior year has been the only year where I haven’t been abroad, I’ve still been able to do so much with German. I’ve been a Young Ambassador for the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) promoting study abroad on campus, president of the German Club, and taught German to first-, second- and third-grade students at Mountain View Elementary through the Languages for Rockbridge Program. All these extracurriculars have been outlets for me to share my love of the country, culture and language here at W&L and in Rockbridge County.

These past four years have helped define my passion for German, a passion that wouldn’t exist without my professors. I’m excited to be able to further that passion next year as and English Language teaching assistant in Austria, thanks to the Austrian-American Educational Commission. Beyond next year, I have no idea what the future will hold, but I know that W&L has given me the tools I need to figure out what that next step will be.