Sophia Angele-Kuehn was born in Manhattan, New York, and has family roots in Baden-Württemberg and Berlin, Germany. She is a fourth-year undergraduate student at Connecticut College in New London, majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in German Studies. Her Honors Thesis will be a memoir that also reflects on the narrative tradition of immigrants’ children who write in order to understand their ancestral roots. The idea was first inspired by her studies in a DAAD-funded University Summer Course at the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg during the Summer of 2018.
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 Sophia a few questions about her work and experience:
1. What are you currently studying and/or working on?
I’m (attempting) to write a creative Honors Thesis on my family’s transnational history, starting with my grandfather who grew up in Berlin during the Third Reich as a half-Jew and then eventually migrated to the US. I’m taking courses that reflect my thesis work, such as one called Vergangenheitsbewältigung about Germany’s process of coming to terms with Nationalsozialismus through literature and an English course on contemporary fiction regarding borders and border-crossing. I’m also enjoying a teaching methodology course for English as a foreign language, since I’m applying to be an English Teaching Assistant in Austria next year.
2. What sparked your interest in learning German?
Even though I grew up surrounded by the German language, I never understood a word. English was my native language. My mom traveled to New York from a farm in southern Germany for her graduate studies. My dad was born in the US, but also never learned German while growing up, even though his parents were native Berliners. Every so often, we would visit our relatives in Germany. On one occasion, my aunt whispered to me and my sister how great it would be if we came back being able to speak German. The idea never left me, so once I started college, I decided to enroll in German 101. The German Studies department was so welcoming and brilliant that I never left!
3. How did you hear about the University Summer Course Grant? Why did you decide to apply?
I was lucky to have received my first travel grant from my college to help accelerate my German in an immersive language course in Düsseldorf. Since I had such a rewarding yet short-lived experience, the next year my German professor let me know about the DAAD and their summer course grants. I knew I had to take the opportunity and make the jump again into unknown territory.
4. What did the application process look like on your end?
At first, I thought that I wasn’t qualified to apply for the University Summer Course Grant since I was only an undergraduate, but was happy to discover that undergraduate students who had completed at least two academic years by the time the summer grant would start qualified! My German professor helped me draft a CV and write my Motivationsschreiben (letter of motivation), advising me right up to the last minute before the deadline. For those who are interested in applying, I would advise finding a helping hand and a personal cheerleader! I wrote my personal statement about my grandfather, my interest in understanding his life, and consequently how he shaped who I am today. I had to choose three possible courses, and the one awarded to me turned out to be the perfect experience – it made me aware of another side of Germany and steered me toward my current Thesis topic.
5. Which course did you participate in? Why did you select this course and how did it turn out?
The DAAD placed me in the historic city of Lutherstadt (named after Martin Luther) in a course about Literatur nach der Wende (literature following the German reunification process) in former East Germany. The program was located in the old university building and offered the perfect class size. I made friends with students from Taiwan, Italy, Russia, France, and South Korea. We even had the opportunity to hear firsthand from an author who grew up in East Berlin. We spent our last day together by cooking traditional dishes from our home countries and inviting our host families and friends to celebrate by the Elbe river.
6. What was one of the coolest experiences you had while you were in Germany?
I lived with a host family and a student from Russia who was taking the same course, which was the perfect set-up. I felt part of a family whom I could chat with in their garden until the last rays of the evening sun disappeared. This also meant that I was listening to and speaking German non-stop for a month. Every time I called up my parents on WhatsApp, my mouth had trouble forming English words!
7. What was the most challenging experience you had while living in Germany?
The course level was B2+, so most of the students had been speaking German for half of their lives, whereas I had known the language for only two years. Although I loved the course, it challenged me: I made errors and had to ask countless questions in order to improve. Even though I felt vulnerable, everyone supported me and wanted me to excel.
8. What advice would you give to students who are thinking of choosing your field of study, particularly those considering an experience abroad?
Don’t feel like you have to restrict yourself to one area of study! I’m graduating with a degree in English, but of course I’m equally passionate about German, as well as Italian and art. I don’t let my studies define my path – they’re only current interests in a lifelong journey. I was placed in a summer course that was about literature, but also included German film, history, and politics. I learned so much more that way.
10. Can you cook a German dish without a recipe? If so, which one?
Luckily my host family made me meals during my summer course. But, when I interned in Berlin this past summer, I had to learn how to cook for myself. After getting tired of Mac & Cheese and spaghetti Bolognese, I decided to try my hand in traditional German dishes, like Schnitzel and Käsespätzle. Luckily my mom still remembered her mother’s Swabian Käsespätzle recipe by heart and passed it on to me. I don’t cook as often now, but hopefully I won’t forget!
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