When Kurtis Klein first arrived in Heidelberg, Germany, he quickly found that the German language he had learned in the classrooms of San Diego State University was going to need some fine-tuning in order to settle in to the host university and community where he would be spending the next twelve months.
“It was a struggle, at first, to communicate effectively, because I did not have the specialized vocabulary needed to navigate all of the technical paperwork needed to register with the city, pay rent, set up a German bank account, etc.”
However, Kurtis stuck with it, and it got easier and easier as he went along. Before he knew it, he was at the bank speaking with the teller about the specifics of each type of account that was available to him.
“Because of this, I am excited. I can’t wait to see how much progress I make in the next year.”
This scenario – reframing a potentially frustrating situation as a kind of baseline for growth and improvement – is just one example of how Kurtis is making the very most of his time abroad. A first-generation college student who spent most of his life within 45 minutes from where he was born, Kurtis was eager to expand his perspective. Earning a scholarship from the Fund for Education Abroad opened up that possibility by defraying some of the costs of studying at the University in Heidelberg for an academic year (arranged through California State University’s International Programs).
Since his arrival in Germany, Kurtis has been savoring those one-of-a-kind experiences that he wouldn’t have had back home in San Diego: Exploring the relics of Berlin’s past through its abandoned structures. Seeing his first snow fall. Experiencing what it’s like to be the only person from the United States in class. Exchanging music, language and food with new friends and classmates from around the world. Learning how to use new resources and asking for help when needed.
“This has been a great opportunity for me to meet new people and practice my independence.”
By the time Kurtis completes his year abroad, he will also be closer to his career in teaching English as a second language. He plans to volunteer his time at a school in his host community where he can log teaching hours, a requirement of earning one’s TOEFL certificate. In the meantime, he finds that everyday conversation can be a great source of informal professional development.
“It is advantageous for me to have lots of non-native English speakers to practice with.”
Kurtis, who has ADHD and a learning disability, was initially hesitant to register with his school’s disability services and to disclose to his professors. “I think I was worried about being seen as different, but now I realize that the need for some type of accommodation doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence. Different people just need support in different areas.” His advice to other students with disabilities? “Be honest with yourself.”
He also encourages students with disabilities to go abroad and to apply for scholarships that promote student diversity abroad, such as the Fund for Education Abroad.
“The experiences that one gets when he or she travels and lives in another country are amazing, whatever their disabilities. Just to be open to new experiences. Let life happen!”