November 15, 2011
When Marten Mueller (Class of 2014) joined the Rollins soccer team earlier this year, it didn’t take long for the midfielder to hit his stride. Turns out the soccer skills he picked up growing up in Berlin, Germany translated well into U.S. collegiate soccer. Off the field, however, he hasn’t found the transition into U.S. culture quite as simple. International students, like Mueller, experience all sorts of cultural gaffs as they learn to navigate their new home. But for this international relations major, these are all part of the benefit of coming to Rollins where day-to-day ups and downs become just as useful to one’s education as the time spent in the classroom.
What was your first year at Rollins like?
The international students orientation gave me the opportunity to meet other international students. This became more and more important because we all have the same issues, problems and challenges. I am still in touch with many “internationals” and we have somehow built a kind of international community where we can discuss issues from our international point of view. Also, I am on the soccer team. The players integrated me really quickly and involved me in many activities on campus. The weather here in Florida is awesome. It’s mid November and it’s 80 degrees; I can read a book by the pool.
What has been one of the best things about studying abroad?
I think I will figure out the best things about studying abroad in the future, maybe in 20 years when I look back on this time. So far, I can say the whole experience is great, not only that I learn the language more and more, but also that I learn how different two Western cultures like USA and Germany can be and how different the people are. Even the teaching methods are different here. I think I will learn more important things outside of the classroom than inside.
What has been one of the toughest things about studying in a foreign country?
The language is always a barrier, especially when you use wrong words in specific contexts. Sometimes I’ve had to remind people that English is not my native language and that my intention is never to offend someone; it is just how I would say or question something in Germany.
Have you made any memorable cultural missteps?
When I first got here, I met a girl and asked her to go to dinner with me. I wanted to get to know her better and maybe talk about non-campus things. So we went out and had a good conversation and a good dinner. After we were done, I asked for the bill and the waiter asked, "together or separate?" I answered, without thinking, "separate, please." What I remember next was a confused look on the girl’s face, but she did not make a big deal out of it.
Later in the evening I asked my roommate if I had done something wrong because although we had a great conversation, she seemed to be more distant than before our dinner. He explained to me that if you ask a girl for dinner, it is an unwritten law that you pay for it. So she expected me to pay because that is just the way it obviously is here, and felt I rejected her because I wanted to pay separately.
From my point of view—the European point of view—you do not pay for a girl’s dinner if you do not know her. The girl should want to know you better just as you want to know her better. In other words, both sides are showing their interest, which then makes it logical that both sides pay their own bill. My view is that if a stranger expects another person to pay, the foundation of the meeting is changed. I would think the girl just went out for dinner with me because she knew that I would pay, not because she wants to know me better. If I would date a girl for a longer time, it would never be a big deal to pay for her, of course I would, and she would pay some other day.
Long story short, the next day I contacted her and explained to her why I separated the bill and that it had nothing to do with anything else but equality. I still think she does not understand it.
What do you miss most about home?
My family and my home, German food and traditions, speaking German and parties in Berlin.
What advice do you have for other international students who are considering Rollins or those who are still making the transition?
If you are male, don’t ask a girl for dinner without clarifying who pays, if not you will be surprised how big this becomes. Seriously, integration is important, but don’t forget where you come from and don’t ever do things just because the culture expects you to do so.
A celebration of international exchange worldwide, International Education Week runs November 14-18. The joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education promotes programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attracts future leaders from abroad to study, learn and exchange experiences in the United States. Learn what Rollins is doing in celebration of this week.
At Rollins, international recruitment has doubled since last year (from 4 to 8 percent), and admission officers will have visited 30 countries by the end of the fall recruitment season. Once students arrive, the Office of International Student & Scholar Services provides the opportunity for international students to acclimate to the U.S. college campus, learn their rights and responsibilities related to immigration status, build community and gain experiences and skills necessary to achieve academic and career goals.
By Kristen Manieri
Office of Marketing & Communications
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.