Shawn Lee

My encounter with learning German was completely unintentional. I had only signed up after failing to enroll in a Spanish 1 class for 3 straight quarters. As a Geography major, the initial plan was to simply fulfill the foreign language requirements with German 1, 2, and 3. However, over that one year, I guess the enthusiasm of my TAs and professors rubbed off on me, and I told myself I was not going to let all that I’ve learnt in the past year go down the drain over summer break. That eventually led me to sign up not just for the Travel Study Program in Vienna, Munich, and Berlin, where we witnessed first-hand Germany’s victory in the 2014 World Cup, but also for other external summer language courses at Heidelberg University and in Aachen. It was an intensive yet unforgettable summer, to say the least. In fact, spending a whole summer in Germany was probably the best thing I could do for my learning because the first hand contact with the people, culture, and language only made me more interested and inspired.

Thanks to Dr. Tarnawska Senel and the flexibility of the German department, I was allowed to pass out of German 4, 5, and 6 after that summer and to start taking upper division courses. The department offered a variety of classes, covering topics from history, literature, politics, environment, philosophy, and more, all of which exposed me to works by many famous Germans. Without a doubt, the assignments challenged me, but it also improved my language abilities; that said, I surely do not miss those nights trying to churn out responses to texts by Freud and Kafka in German.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the start of the senior year that I decided to pursue German as my second major. It certainly meant much more work in my last year of college, but I am grateful that the department was very supportive and encouraging to the seniors. Even though the difficulty level of the assignments increased correspondingly, I found myself enjoying the process and experience. In fact, I truly appreciate how the capstone class was designed to help us create our own portfolio that would prepare us for life after college.

Today, although my current job does not require German, learning German continues to be my favorite hobby. I still keep a German book in my bag to read during my commutes on the train, and each time I read a text, I never fail to reminisce on the German classes and on the friends I made at UCLA. My nurturing German professors and TAs have built a strong foundation for me, and I’m eternally grateful to the department and its wonderful staff for leading me to a lifelong passion.