Jun 11, 2020

The “Fachhochschule” Experience: How USA Study Abroad Can Shape a Career

Grantee Experience (Studienstipendium)

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Did you know that only 14% of German Fachhochschule students study abroad? But that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible or that it’s not a kick-starter for a career! Just ask Fulbright alumna Nina Siegfried. Nina studied an MS in Sports Administration for a year in Kentucky, USA and came back with new skills, new perspectives, great experiences, and a much bigger network. Read her story to find out how an “Auslandsjahr” can provide not only great experiences but essential skills to your resume.

US Study Abroad Isn’t Just For Classic Universities, But Fachhochschulen, Too!

In 2019, Nina Siegfried set out from her studies in Europe to take on new challenges in the field of sports administration at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. As one of only around 14% of Fachhochschule (technical college) students that study abroad according to a Hochschule Informations Systems study she was part of a select crowd. But looking at Nina’s tale of her time abroad, one has to wonder why that is?

The German student recounts her time fondly, remembering “At my internship, as well as in my academic setting, I was able to set my own path, take advantage of development opportunities, and have the constant support of mentors while pursuing my dreams and a degree.”

Why Study Abroad from a Fachhochschule?

The rest of Nina’s time provides her answer to this. Nina tells of many benefits of expanding her Fachhochschule experience abroad, but perhaps most impressive is the career steps in sports administration she was able to take.

“I wanted to use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get involved in the Athletic Department. The faculty made a huge effort to put me in touch with the right people… I finally scored an interview with the department of my choice, the Cardinal Athletic Fund (fundraising department of Louisville Athletic).

I thoroughly enjoyed my internship and got to work with donors on a more personal basis by hosting them during basketball games. With the fundraising department focusing on personal communication - including many daily incoming phone calls, visits from donors and hosted events - I was hesitant at first about how I would be perceived by my fellow co-workers and donors. My bosses gave me their trust from the first day, which helped me a lot to believe in my skills and go beyond my comfort zone. In the end, this brought me into the suites and courtside at U of L men’s basketball games with 22,000 people in the arena, and allowed me to make lasting connections.”

Learn more about applying for exchange grants for Fachhochschulen here

5 Benefits of an “Auslandsjahr” in the USA

Nina tells of the ability of new cultures and contexts to provide great new opportunities. Through experiences like these, she tapped into some of the main benefits of studying abroad as a Fachhochschule student. Time abroad lets you:

  • Add invaluable international experience to your resume
  • Make life-long contacts that can help in finding and building your career at home or abroad
  • Improve your language skills for the increasingly international job world.
  • Develop important career skills, such as being a self-starter that “has been essential in the personal development I was able to achieve and the opportunities I was able to seize.”
  • Taking advantage of and delving into new career opportunities, that are sometimes only available abroad (see: being “courtside at U of L men’s basketball games with 22,000 people in the arena, and allowed me to make lasting connections.”)

What’s It Like Studying In The USA?

The idea of entering a new culture and leaving your comfort zone is intimidating. There are language barriers and nuances that are hard to learn, plus being far away from your safety net. Luckily, for many, these fears are more in our heads than in reality. And even better, oftentimes confronting them can bring us to new discoveries. Nina’s time in the US in Kentucky counts as case in point.

“Being the only foreigner in my program and taking both first- and second-year classes at the same time, I was slightly nervous on the first day as to how I would be perceived, understood, and how I would fit into the class. Luckily everyone, including my professors, were more than welcoming and accommodating. My fellow classmates made sure to explain historic sporting events, stories, the NCAA system, and any other U.S. sports-related information. In return, I was able to bring international examples and stories into the classroom."

American universities often place a lot of value in facilitating their student’s needs. You can usually find support if you need it by simply contacting your US university’s counselors or student affairs department. As Nina notes “The University of Louisville prides itself on putting their students first and I can wholeheartedly confirm this sentiment.”

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"Volunteering with my department during the Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis as part of the Green Team (72,000 poeple in the arena)" - Nina Siegfried

The Possibilities Abroad are Endless

Or they are at least what you make of them. There are great things that an “Auslandsaufenthalt” can bring you, but like anything, it’s helpful to know what you want to get out of it. Whether it’s career skills, connections, valuable contacts and resume experience, or simply diverse perspectives, you have to set your sights on them abroad or at home. As Nina’s experience goes to show:

“The U.S. is known as the country of opportunities and it truly is, if you make a genuine effort to seize them. My time in Kentucky also enabled me to start a side project. I was contacted by Reach the World to visit a classroom in rural Kentucky for International Education Week and speak with high school students about the value of international exchange.

After the official visit to two classrooms with Reach the World, I made more visits on my own to other middle and high school classrooms in Kentucky. I recommend that future and current Fulbrighters get involved in their communities and state, and of course serve as an “ambassador” for their own country, but also share their knowledge and skills in a valuable manner. You can and will touch so many lives as a Fulbrighter, so make the most of it!”

Tips for studying abroad (FAQs)

How can I make friends abroad?

Nina’s tip - Don’t skip orientation: “My journey started out with a gateway program at Northern Illinois University, outside of Chicago. I was surrounded by 77 like-minded and bright students from 53 nations for 5 days and made lasting friendships while learning about Fulbright, exploring the local culture and networking. I first set foot on campus and met with my professors a week before school started. Never have I been so welcomed and felt so at home from the first moment as at the University of Louisville (U of L) in the Sports Administration department. The incoming 2nd-year master’s students organized a social for the new 1st year students, which allowed us to meet each other in a relaxed setting before classes were starting.“

How do I get into the programs I want to take abroad?

Nina’s tip - Stay cool: “Though things moved rather slowly while I was still in Germany, I realized you can get a lot more done on-site and in person. I reached out to my fellow classmates and 2nd-year students, as they had established contacts, who in turn put me in touch with their bosses. I finally scored an interview with the department of my choice, the Cardinal Athletic Fund (fundraising department of Louisville Athletic).“

How can I organize my studies?

Nina’s tip - Talk to your counselor and grant program: “I was a special case in the M.S. Sport Administration program. Usually, the program is two years long. Since the Fulbright funding is limited to two semesters and I wanted to leave with a degree, I discussed with the department and decided to take twice the course load and finish the program in two semesters. My academic advisor did her best to accommodate my academic needs and preferences while fitting all the necessary classes into my schedule.”

What can I do to make the most of my time abroad?

Nina’s tip - Get involved!: “I recommend that future and current Fulbrighters get involved in their communities and state, and of course serve as an “ambassador” for their own country, but also share their knowledge and skills in a valuable manner. You can and will touch so many lives as a Fulbrighter, so make the most of it!”

Learn more about going abroad with a Fulbright Grant for Fachhochschulen

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