In the blog series XYZ with Q, Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. In this post, Q did a language exchange and interviewed Benton alumnus Josh Smeltzer ’12, who currently resides in Hamburg, Germany.
Learning a foreign language is hard, and German can be particularly hard with its grammatical gender and winding words, like “Entschuldigung Sie bitte” for “excuse me.” However, my language exchange with Benton Scholar alumnus Joshua Smeltzer ’12 (Josh) over Skype was not as painful as I thought.
It was, to be frank, fun to do some muscle workouts for my mouth, and Josh’s experience as a teacher definitely helped. A former Fulbright fellow, he taught English for nine months at a German high school before he started a Master of Science in Politics, Economics and Philosophy at the University of Hamburg. Recently, he received a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Graduate Scholarship, which covered the cost of living and insurance for his master degree.
To me, Germany has always been on my list of “Top 10 Countries to Visit” for its romantic castles, spirit-lifting cultures, and…Rittersport! But Josh’s interest in Germany was not sparked until he was in Colgate’s Freiburg German study group. “It changed my direction. I felt that I wanted to come back to Germany again,” he said.
Now he lives in Hamburg, and he likes it a lot for its greenness and cleanliness, “unlike the odor that never leaves NYC,” we both laughed.
“The government is very welcoming. Even for non-citizens, the tuition is free,” he said. I asked him why Germany could be so open to foreigners. As in the recent refugee crisis, Germany has been a beacon of hope for many desperate refugees and migrants.
“In Germany, immigrants still pay more for the social service they receive than the benefits they gain. The government also needs young people to come and stay, because of the ageing population and the low birth rate,” he said.
Despite having lived in Germany for more than three years, Josh still experiences some culture shock. “The second time I went back, when I ate breakfast with my host family, I was piling up my bread like a sandwich. To them that was totally unbelievable, as they usually stack it with only a piece of cheese,” he chuckled, and I felt appreciative about the make-it-yourself sandwich bar at Frank.
In terms of academics, the class experience is also very different. “There is less sense of community. You go to class, then leave, and there is no extra-curricular activity. At the master level, we have about 35 students in a class, so there is definitely less attention from the professors. The professors are also more lecture-oriented,” he said.
When he looks back, he thinks the most valuable thing he picked up at Colgate is critical thinking. “I notice that people in my program who go to liberal arts colleges tend to be more critical to the texts than people who go through the German system.”
And a walk down the memory lane can never be complete with a piece of advice. Here is what Josh offers: “Try to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to hear different ideas, from faculty dinners to guest lectures. For me, it is also about being open to new experience. It was not until I was in Moscow with Professor Nancy Ries on our Benton trip to Russia that I started to think about a PCON major. I was asking her about what I should major in, because I wanted to do English but did not quite like it, and she said ‘why don’t you give PCON a try.’ I was really glad I took her advice in my sophomore year and gave it a shot.”
Tschüß and Danke Josh for the fun German-learning and sharing! Good luck for your new adventures through DAAD!
About XYZ with Q, and a spoiler: in the next post, I will be doing DJ with Mark Maggiore’18, so stay tuned!