Heather Smitelli

The first German class I ever took was during my junior year of high school. I wanted to try something new that was different from the more commonly taught foreign languages in school. I had taken both French and Spanish for many years, but found myself completely discouraged at how unsuccessful I was at learning either of them. I even started to think that it was impossible for me to learn a foreign language at all.

After just a few classes of German, however, I knew that I had finally found a language that was easy for me to retain and understand. I was surprised to find how similar the language is to English. I was therefore able to acquire new vocabulary and grammar more quickly than I could when I had tried to learn other languages. I was so encouraged by how much I was learning that I began to look at German websites and magazines, as well as listen to German music to try to strengthen my vocabulary and learn about German culture outside of the classroom.

I ultimately majored in German at UCLA, where I received a great deal of support from all of the professors. I began with only a basic knowledge of German, but improved exponentially during the four years I spent at the university. I learned how to read literature and write compositions and longer papers in German, and how to speak the language with confidence. I also had the opportunity to spend a summer in Austria and Germany to learn about German culture and practice the language firsthand.

I was so inspired by what I learned through the German Department that I am now studying International Education at Columbia University, with a research interest in intercultural Germany. My positive experience with German at UCLA has given me the opportunity to achieve a level of fluency that I never imagined was possible. I know I will continue to practice and use the German skills that I learned at UCLA for the rest of my life.