Here you can read Part one of Hannah’s experience.
Winter in Carolina. Photo: Hannah Riemann
I can’t believe my time at Duke University is almost over! The last few months were a hell of a ride and I hardly had time to catch a breath let alone sit down and write down my experiences down for you. I am sorry, friends! So, let’s start from the beginning with me moving to a new house at the end of my first semester, celebrating American Thanksgiving, Exam Period coming up and preparing for Christmas. It was a very busy, but also very fun time!
So first things first: American Thanksgiving!
Over Thanksgiving we got a few days off from school, which was very nice and gave us a chance to relax and rest before the stressful exam period started. On Thanksgiving, itself a few friends and I booked a table at a very nice BBQ Restaurant in downtown Durham, because they offered a typical Thanksgiving dinner for a decent price. There was no way we would have been able to cook a turkey and this way we didn’t have to cook anything and also didn’t have any cleaning up to do. The food was delicious! At one point, I almost thought the table was going to burst under all the delicious food. We had mashed potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, turkey, ham, pulled pork, stuffing, soy nuggets (so the vegetarians didn’t have to starve either), hash brown, corn bread, beans, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and much much more! Just thinking of it makes me crave it again. It was so much food that even though we were six people we weren’t even close to finishing it and had to take the rest of it home. This way we had a second Thanksgiving Dinner the next day: Two for One, Yay!
Welcome to Duke University. Photo: Hannah Riemann
Over two months ago, I was sitting at home packing my bags to go on my next big adventure: studying in the United States for a year at Duke University in North Carolina. Considering the current American political scene and the fact that I am a political science student who does not really agree with most of the political choices Americans have made lately, it was quite a jump for me. The fact that I would live in the conservative South of the United States did not really calm my fears of spending my next 10 months arguing with Americans about politics.
Now I have lived and studied at Duke University for over two months, visited great lectures, had amazing conversation and discussions with other students and professors and came to the conclusion: I really like it here.
Make America great again?
But don’t worry. I did not turn into a redneck, hillbilly, gun-owning Trump supporter. As an American friend put it when I asked him whether North Carolina belongs to the Deep South: “Yes, they were part of the Confederacy, but you are in a super liberal pocket of North Carolina in Durham. Drive 20 minutes in any direction and you will find some hillbilly …… (*insert censor beep sound here*).” It seems that I just got lucky and ended up in one of the most liberal areas of the Deep South. So far, I have not had “the pleasure” of talking with a Trump-supporter, because everyone I met here is ashamed of having him as their “president”. It is true though that as soon as you leave Durham and drive through the more rural areas of North Carolina, it is not uncommon to find Confederate flags hanging in front yards or “Make America great again” stickers on bumpers.
So many places to go to. Photo: Hannah Riemann
After applying for the exchange program of the FAU with the Duke University in North Carolina, USA, I was more than excited to find out in March, that I was accepted along with two other FAU-Students. What I did not know was all the preparation work that comes with an exchange semester, so here I will write down what hurdles I stumbled upon, so you don’t make the same mistakes.
Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork
First of all, there is all the paperwork to deal with. The program I applied for came with a DAAD-scholarship and there were all the papers I had to sign to make sure that everything with the scholarship runs smoothly, because to be honest, I could not afford paying 50,000$ to study at an American university. Most scholarships come with obligations: Students have to take a certain amount of credit points at the exchange-university and have to write several reports on how their stay is. Keep that in mind and note down the due dates, because when you sign an agreement that wants you to hand in a report six months later, it is easy to forget it.
After dealing with the first bunch of paperwork, some host-universities still want the student to apply separately. So even though I was already accepted by my home university I still had to apply directly to the American university. I had to go through the entire process and also had to ask some professors to write me letters of recommendation in English. I had to hand in more paperwork, and the process this time was even longer, because I had to send it to the States via mail and it felt like it was taking ages. So, make sure to start your paperwork as soon as possible, because it all takes longer than you’d expect.
This is the awesome photo by FAU-Student Sulaiman Vesal. Copyright: Sulaiman Vesal & UNESCO
“What would your life be like if you were somebody else? Have you ever imagined stepping into someone else’s shoes and how would you react to a given situation?”
Those were the lines with which UNESCO invited people to participate in their photo contest “If I were…”. Participants were invited to step into the footsteps of another person’s life and express their experience and feelings in one photo by changing their perspective and expressing themselves differently. The idea was to illustrate their feelings if they were this other person, change their perspective and express themselves differently while developing their empathy and leaving their prejudices behind!
UNESCO received over 837 submissions, from over 117 countries around the world. One of those submissions was by FAU-Student Sulaiman Vesal, who ended up being one of the winners. Originally being from Afghanistan he had an encounter with two kids on one of his trips visiting his family, which he could not forget. He was at a cemetery on a cold winter morning with -13 C, when he noticed two kids, who spent the whole morning selling water to visitors. It is custom in Afghanistan to show respect to the deceased by cleaning their gravestone. To do so people need to carry water from the closest dwell to the gravestone, which sometimes is very far away. The kids offered to carry the water and clean the tombstones for as little as 15-20 cents. When Sulaiman asked the kids, who were wearing their schoolbag, why they do this, they answered they work on the cemetery every day before and after school, in order to support their family and be able to go to school. Both motivated to make and work hard for their own future.