Dec 08, 2017

Learning How to Dream

By Jacquelin Hansel

It was summer 2015, when I attended the Fulbright Intercultural Communication Program and spent three weeks at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Now, over two years later, I am living in the heart of Silicon Valley, working at one of the fastest growing companies in the world as a Data Analyst. Without the Fulbright program, I am pretty sure this wouldn’t have happened. Let’s start from the beginning. I want to give you a heads-up that this article is not about a detailed description of the Fulbright Program itself. Over two years passed since then already – and to be honest, you can forget a lot of details in two years. The students who recently attended the program can probably do a much better job at describing the program than I can do right now. I want to write about how sometimes small things, small decisions and small situations in your daily life can lead to something big – which was kind of how I got into the Fulbright Program. And how these special events can lead to even bigger life changes. I want to encourage you to never stop dreaming. No matter how unachievable something might seem right now or how often other people might tell you that something is impossible, things can change quickly if you have the courage to take those small decisions and opportunities in your daily life. I know, this might sound very American to you – and having lived here for almost 1.5 years now, it indeed is a very American thing to say – but there is something true about it. And especially most of the Germans could be a little bit more American sometimes when it comes to dreaming.

It was November 2014, when I first heard about Fulbright and specifically the Intercultural Communication Program through an e-mail of my university in Germany. I was studying abroad in Scotland at this time, and you can probably imagine that I had a lot of things on my mind and reading e-mails from my German university was not one of my top priorities. However, this time I actually read the e-mail and between coursework, exams and road trips, I took the effort and applied to the Fulbright Program. It was only a small e-mail, a small step, a small decision – but it truly changed a lot in my life going forward.

The 2015 Fulbright Intercultural Communication Program Cohort at Georgia Tech

Luckily, I got the Fulbright scholarship, and in July 2015 the 3-week-journey to Georgia Tech began. It was an incredible experience: I learned many things. I learned about intercultural communication, the American culture and college life in the U.S. I learned about startups and entrepreneurship. I learned a lot about myself and how to get out of my comfort zone. But what inspired me the most was the spirit of the people to follow their dreams and make things happen, even if it means to fail sometimes. The Fulbright Program was a great experience and was a big opportunity for all the scholars.

At the entrance of University of California, Berkeley

However, when I came back home, I felt like that couldn’t be it. The entrepreneurial mindset and the culture of seeing failure as something positive intrigued me. That’s when I decided to apply for Master programs in the U.S. But I didn’t just want to study in the U.S., I dreamed of going to a prestigious, world-wide known university that ideally has a lot of connections to startups. Sometimes I even thought about working in Silicon Valley after graduation. However, coming from a small town and a not worldwide renowned university in Germany and having no connections in the U.S., many people laughed at my idea or didn’t take it seriously. And to be honest, I had moments where I didn’t believe in it either. Also, I was too late for nearly all of the scholarships, I only had two months to prepare my applications including tests, recommendation letters, essays and many documents while working full-time and taking university courses simultaneously. You get the gist of it – it was not the easiest thing to achieve. However, I just took the opportunity and gave it a shot. There was not much to lose except of some wasted time.

In March 2016, I got the admission e-mail from University of California Berkeley, one of the best universities in the world that is also close to Silicon Valley. I made it. I know that there was also some luck involved, that’s for sure. But it showed me that just trying things and believing in your dreams can lead to something great. So, I moved to the U.S. and began my Master’s in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research in the Bay Area. During my year in Berkeley, I learned more about startups, the newest tech trends, the culture of failure and dreaming and I met motivated, inspiring people from around the world. I specialized in Data Analytics – a field which is still fairly small in Germany – but one of the most important topics in Silicon Valley. I thought back to my experience at Georgia Tech many times, because that was where my American journey began.

Throughout my Master’s, I decided that I want to get more of these experiences and try to find a job in Silicon Valley. The mindset of having the courage to start new things and executing your own ideas amazed me. A mindset that is not very common in Germany. However, again, I was a bit late with my decision (and yes, I admire people who have their life all planned out for several years, but I am clearly not one of them). I started going to networking events, talked to people already working in San Francisco and tried to build a network. During one of my lectures, we had a guest from the Analytics Team at Lyft presenting some of the challenges in Marketing Analytics – and I decided to talk to him afterwards and I told him that I was looking for a job in Analytics. A follow-up phone call, a homework assignment and several interviews later – I got a job offer from Lyft as a Data Analyst. A small situation, a small decision, just speaking to the guest lecturer afterwards, lead to a huge change in my life – again. And that’s how I ended up working for an inspiring and fast-growing startup in San Francisco. Without the Fulbright Program, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Master of Engineering Graduation Picture in front of the Campanile, landmark of the Berkeley campus

For sure – I had a lot of luck. But also, I just used a lot of small opportunities in my daily life that brought me to where I am now. There were many times where I would rather have stayed in my comfort zone – but it’s worth to give it a shot sometimes and take the chances that are given to you. Even if they seem to be really small at first sight. Obviously, you won’t always succeed. Probably you will fail a lot of times or these small situations won’t lead to something big – but sometimes they do. And they can change your life. Maybe you are hesitating right now whether you should apply for a Fulbright scholarship or not, or you have some other decisions to make. I encourage you to just try it and go for it! Lastly, I want to thank Fulbright for this amazing opportunity: I learned to get out of my comfort zone as often as possible. I learned to dream. And that’s something you can learn in the U.S. for sure.


Jacquelin Hansel took part in the Fulbright Intercultural Communication Program at Georgia Tech in 2015. Back then, she was a co-op student at Rittal studying Industrial Engineering at Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen in Wetzlar. After graduating from the Master of Engineering Program in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at University of California Berkeley, where she focused on Machine Learning and Data Analytics, Jacquelin started working as a Data Analyst for Lyft in San Francisco. Reach out to Jacquelin if you have any questions or are interested in working for a startup in Silicon Valley. Find her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacquelin-hansel) or e-mail her via jacquelin_hansel@berkeley.edu.



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