Steven Armstrong

As I look back to my freshmen orientation in 2011, I can’t truly explain what drew me into starting another language. Perhaps it was the idea of starting from scratch, the idea of starting a new area of study simultaneously with my new college life. Since I had taken Spanish in high school, it would have been easy to simply continue on from where I had left off and finish the language requirement for UCLA. And yet, without knowing what German would bring me outside of Schadenfreude, I dove in.

As it would turn out, German 1 would be my first class at UCLA. I can still remember walking into the basement of Haines for my first lecture, sitting down in one of the chairs closest to the door, and realizing with horror that I was the only freshman in a class seemingly populated by only seniors and graduate students. My sense of ease at starting a beginner level course evaporated as I realized I was surrounded my students from different backgrounds, different ages, different sexualities, and seemingly every different field imaginable at UCLA. I shifted in my seat; uncomfortably aware of how unknown everything seemed to me. And so I sat in silence, trying not to be noticed. Learning to count to ten is a wonderful ice-breaker.

Within those first fifty minutes my fear disintegrated and my anxiety turned into excitement. I discovered that the differences in those around me were grounds for discussion and learning rather than a barrier between us. We all shared a common goal – learning the language and a common enemy – German grammar. This served as the foundation to bring us together. I grew to cherish the class in which students were encouraged to speak to one another rather than remain silent.

I enjoyed these classes so much that I continued past the language requirement of German 3 and went on to complete German 4, 5, and 6 the following year. At this point, I was developing as much of a relationship with the graduate students who lectured us as much as my fellow students. With such good experiences already, at that point I made the best decision of my academic career and went on to participate in the Travel Study program to Vienna, Munich, and Berlin through the German department. For one month I was immersed in the language and culture I had been studying for two years and finally had a „Maβ“. This program deepened my knowledge and made it possible to finish my German minor as a junior the next year. My freshman self didn’t see that one coming.

My study and enjoyment of German show no signs of stopping. It has broadened my scope of learning as well as opened doors I had previously not imagined. Learning German, it seems, is not only valuable in a personal sense. Through the German department I have come into contact with international companies and have been offered internship positions abroad. The learning, apparently, has just begun.