Hannah White, of Hillsboro, started out her freshman year as many of her fellow students do: in her own world. It wasn’t until her sophomore year that she discovered all the things SIUE has to offer.
“If anybody says something bad about SIUE, they have not got involved enough,” White said. “My first year was really hard, and I was admittedly not pro-SIUE because I stayed in my dorm room all the time and I didn’t try to make friends. I didn’t branch out.”
Now, White is a secondary German education major with an English endorsement as well as reliving memories of her time in Germany through her duties as a student ambassador.
She was nominated for the position by foreign language and literature professor Belinda Carstens-Wickham and Ron Schaefer, director of the Center for International Programs.
Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, DAAP, translates to German Academic Exchange Services. It is the program White is involved in for undergraduate students who have studied abroad. The chosen students share their experiences and promote studying abroad on college campuses throughout North America.
White is currently an ambassador talking to students at SIUE about her time in Heidelberg last summer. She offers guidance and looks at specific study abroad programs with them.
“I probably have two or three people a week [who] come up and talk to me,” White said. “Out of those two or three people, I probably have one that we work together and really look at programs. Looking at things is fun, even if you don’t feel like you really want to do it. It’s really good to explore options.”
According to White, she will never sugarcoat things for the students she talks to. She refuses to leave out the difficult parts of her experience in Germany.
“Sometimes it’s really hard, and sometimes you miss your family, and sometimes you want to go home more than anything. I think that that’s what makes you a stronger person,” White said. “If someone would have read my life chart before I was going to study abroad, they would be like, ‘This girl should not go study abroad because she’s going to have a mental breakdown and she’s not going to be able to handle it.’”
White said, during her first month in Germany, she could be found crying in her apartment on a regular basis. However, after that initial adjustment to the culture and language, she discovered what makes studying abroad so rewarding.
“It sucked in a way, but then it was also really great in that I could kind of discover myself in ways that I wouldn’t if I’m expected to be an American citizen in America,” White said. “In Germany, I wasn’t expected to be a German citizen, and I wasn’t really expected to be American either unless I chose to go out … and say ‘I’m the American girl.’ No one had any expectations of me.”
Study Abroad Coordinator Julie Beall-Marshall said, in addition to discovering yourself as a person, studying abroad can also change your entire outlook.
“It is one of those once in a lifetime opportunities and I see the transformation in students time and time again,” Beall-Marshall said. “It changes your whole perspective on the world. It changes your perspective on your life, on the United States. You have no idea before you go that it’s going to change you that much.”
White said working with Beall-Marshall prior to her trip really helped because, at the time, she was deciding between a German and English major.
“Even though it’s a lot more headaches and a lot more stress, it’s 100 percent worth it because I had this amazing experience, and I grew into a much stronger person, and now I can speak German, which I think is really cool,” White said. “There’s this whole other set of literature and ideas and culture that I can delve into in that language. I like that feeling of connecting with something in a way that I couldn’t connect with something in English because it’s just so normal to me.”
According to Beall-Marshall, student ambassadors like White help make her job as the only person who handles study abroad much easier.
“She can tell [students] all about it – what her classes were like, the benefit of studying German in Germany and how that’s different than studying here in Edwardsville and that kind of thing,” Beall-Marshall said. “It’s really useful, I’ve found, when students can talk with other students who’ve done what they’re thinking about doing. That’s really comforting…when you can talk to a peer. I think that’s what really inspires students to study abroad.”