Leslie Hernandez is a current 4th year student at University of California, Santa Barbara, double majoring in Global Studies and German. She is Latina-American, born and raised in Orange County, California and half Mexican and half Salvadoran. Studying abroad has given her perspective on why it is important to be in touch with one’s own culture even while exploring others and as a DAAD Young Ambassador, she hopes to support other students seeking international opportunities in Germany.
Our DAAD network is a vast and global net of connections between DAAD award winners, ambassadors, alumni, grant holders, future applicants – all united by their love for study and research abroad and all things German. We asked Leslie few questions about her work and experience:
1. What sparked your interest in the German language or Germany in general?
I have two older siblings and they both learned a bit of German because they were big fans of the German rock group Rammstein. They were always speaking a bit of German around me and teasing me because I couldn’t understand, so, once I entered high school and had to decide on a language, German was my first choice! After a year or so, I realized that the things they would say around me were all very basic sentences. Now, I know a lot more German than they do!
2. You have been selected as a DAAD Young Ambassador for the academic year 2019/2020. How did you hear about the Young Ambassador Program?
My university’s study abroad program has an amazing on-location office in Berlin, where I studied for a year, and the staff is incredible. They constantly shared information with us that they thought we would benefit from. One of these emails I got happened to be a forwarded email about the DAAD Young Ambassador position. The only other Young Ambassador from a UC was from my school, UCSB, so I emailed him and asked more about the position. He responded very positively, so I decided to apply!
3. Why do you want to be a Young Ambassador? What are some of your plans to promote Germany as a destination abroad to your fellow students?
Even before I studied abroad, I always believed that people should expand their horizons and explore different cultures and countries. My amazing experience in Germany solidified those beliefs even more. Becoming a Young Ambassador will really let me share my experiences with my peers at my university. This year, I hope to be working closely with my study abroad office. I really want to get the chance to plan some exciting events that include actual students from Germany who are from my school’s partner universities in Berlin.
4. Where in Germany have you been?
My first time ever going to Germany was the summer of 2016. I participated in an exchange program and my host family was located in a small village called Niederklein in Hessen. The village is 10 minutes away from Marburg and about an hour north of Frankfurt. My first impression of Germany was through this small town and with this very German family. It was an amazing experience that made me decide to go back through school. So, in 2018, I embarked on my yearlong study abroad experience in Berlin! It was definitely 110% different than that small village lifestyle I had first experienced, but I grew to really love the larger city life and fell in love with the capital!
5. What was the most challenging experience in studying and living abroad in Germany?
I would have to say that it was definitely the lack of any sort of Latinx culture or food. I had to relearn how to buy myself groceries and cook different things for myself with the local groceries I had nearby. I also found it difficult to find certain everyday things that I wanted to buy. Here at home, I just go to Target and everything is in there, but in Germany there isn’t really one store that is exactly like that. So, I struggled a lot with that part of getting settled. Other than that, it was mostly just all new learning experiences for me. Another thing I did find particularly hard to adjust to, was the cold and gloomy winter. It made for lovely Christmas market experiences, but I missed the sun from home!
6. What advice would you give to students who are thinking of choosing your field of study, particularly those considering an experience abroad?
Global Studies isn’t a very common major, but I do think it is similar to studying International Relations, so for all of those people, I think my number one advice would be to not be ignorant about the world outside of the United States. Especially when traveling to different country, you should at least a little bit about their cultures, languages and politics. Not only does this show respect for other places, but it will make the transition easier for you. Along those same lines, however, I would highly recommend anyone in these majors to study abroad for an extended period of time. It really is the best way to learn about a country and gain an additional perspective!
7. What advice would you give to North American students and researchers who are thinking of pursuing an academic opportunity in Germany?
I say go for it! However, one solid piece of advice I would give is to not expect the same sort of teaching style or university experience that you would in North America. German universities are very well known for having a very independent style of learning. Be ready to take care of yourself and don’t expect anyone else to be checking up on your research or studying.
8. Can you cook a German dish without a recipe? If so, which one?
My German host mom taught me how to make Spaetzle and I made it pretty often when I was in Berlin. It’s probably the only German dish I know how to make. However, I would love to learn the recipe for Bienenstich because it is my all-time favorite German dessert.
9. Who has inspired you the most in your career and studies and why?
I have amazing and supportive parents who are both immigrants and their hard work and dedication inspires me every day. Besides my parents, another role model for me is Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the representative for New York’s 14th congressional district. I look up to her as a female and Latina role model. The way she won her election against someone people thought could never lose was very inspiring to me. It is also just so amazing to see another young Latina fighting for this country. Her getting elected definitely gives me more hope that more females of color can make it into positions of power and properly represent the people.
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