Programs immerse students in language and culture

Princeton in Beijing

Sophomore Jonathan Sweemer, a participant in Princeton-in-Beijing this summer, visited the Great Wall of China in Mutianyu, a two hours' drive north of Beijing. Students must speak Chinese at all times, even during trips like this one. (photographer: Eugene Yi)

At left:
During a study break, participants in the Princeton-in-Munich program hiked in the Alps near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. From left, the students are: junior Alexandra Petrocci, sophomores Aparna Swaminathan and Colin Emerson, junior Jordan Wish and senior Byoung Kang. (photographer: Jamie Rankin)

Below left:
Princeton-in-Africa intern Annie Preis, a junior, is working for the Tanzanian Children's Fund. In that capacity, she strives to ensure that young people develop a strong bond with their community. (photographer: Holly Sanderson Schade)

Princeton sophomore Stan Gabryszewski is spending the summer working as a nursing assistant in a clinic for cancer patients receiving radiotherapy. Not only is he learning this challenging position, but he's conducting his work in a second language and in a different culture.

Gabryszewski, of Linden, N.J., is one of many Princeton students spending their summers abroad in internship and language-study programs. A participant in the German department's Summer Work Program, he is employed by a clinic at the University of Freiburg in Germany.

"It's one thing to learn [German] in class and from a book; it's another thing to have to use and apply it on the spur of the moment without having much time to think about whether you used the correct article or adjective ending," he said. "My German is constantly improving. It's amazing how much you learn when the foreign language you study suddenly becomes your default language."

Princeton in Munich

The German department's program is among several work and study abroad programs offered through the University. A similar Princeton-in-France program allows students to work in that country.

Princeton's International Internship Program coordinates the application process for numerous opportunities and provides grants to students who land nonpaying positions. Princeton-in-Asia and Princeton-in-Africa, independent affiliates of the University, provide public-service internships.

Language-study programs include Princeton-in-Munich, Princeton-in-Ishikawa and Princeton-in-Beijing, which offer courses in German, Japanese and Chinese, respectively.

Students enrolled in Princeton-in-Beijing complete an eight-week curriculum in intermediate and advanced Chinese at Beijing Normal University. Courses are taught by faculty members from American universities, including Princeton, and universities in Beijing. Fifty-eight Princeton students, along with 86 other college students and working adults, are participating this summer.

Each day Princeton-in-Beijing covers a week's worth of material and "brings a noticeable improvement in our writing and speaking capabilities," said Sloan Pavsner, a sophomore from Bethesda, Md. East Asian studies is one of several majors she is considering.

During the program, students can speak only Mandarin Chinese. "This is beneficial and is probably one of the main reasons my fluency is accelerating so rapidly," said Jonathan Sweemer, a sophomore from Princeton, N.J., who plans to major in mechanical engineering.

"I don't think there is a class in the U.S. that could possibly have had the same effect on my language skills," said Pavsner. "There is simply no replacement for living in a foreign country and developing a sense of the language as it is really spoken."

While more focused on public service than language immersion, Princeton-in-Africa often provides both for its participants. Founded in 2000, the program works with established humanitarian organizations to solicit and screen applicants for internships. This year, the program directly placed six Princeton students and assisted with 14 others.

Annie Preis, a junior from Los Angeles, is working for the Tanzanian Children's Fund, a nonprofit organization that raises money to assist selected Tanzanian schools with the construction of facilities and the purchase of books and supplies. She is living and working at the Rift Valley Children's Village, an orphanage located in a remote farming region. She teaches in a nearby school and helps with the everyday chores of running the orphanage, including feeding, bathing and entertaining the children. While she teaches in English, she has picked up Swahili during her stay.

Princeton in Africa

Preis, who is majoring in religion, hopes to pursue a career in education with a focus on underprivileged urban youth. "Students participating in summer internships in Africa broaden their perspective and understanding of the developing world," said Holly Sanderson Schade, executive director of Princeton-in-Africa. "These valuable experiences will no doubt influence the choices these individuals will make in the future in both their studies and personal lives."

Participants in the German department's Summer Work Program also are exposed to language and culture through their work. The program has been securing students internships in Germany, Austria and Switzerland for nearly 40 years, and this year has placed 17 Princeton students.

The internships last at least eight weeks. Salaries from positions in the private sector cover living expenses. Students who receive non-paying positions at cultural and governmental institutions can apply for funding from a variety of bodies, including Princeton's International Internship Program and the Wiesbaden-based Princeton Alumni Association of Germany. The work program has been adopted as a model by several other American universities and has been recognized by both the State Department and the German government for strengthening German-American relations and promoting cultural exchange. This summer, all students received grants of up to $1,000 for travel expenses, courtesy of the New York City-based Max Kade Foundation.

Florian Becker, the assistant director of the program and a lecturer in the department, said the program benefits students in many ways -- linguistically, culturally, professionally and personally.

Students "typically come back having benefited enormously" in terms of fluency and vocabulary, he said. However, transitioning from in-class use of German to on-the-job use initially challenges most participants.

"It was quite a shock arriving and trying to understand people speaking," said Abby Johnson, a junior chemical engineering major from Downingtown, Pa., who is interning at Zimmer AG, an engineering company based in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. "They speak very fast and, in Frankfurt, have quite an accent."

The total immersion into the workforce provides students with a crash course on the culture, according to Becker. "They're not studying the culture from afar and just looking at artifacts. They're living in the culture and have to work and function in it," said Becker, who grew up in Germany and lived in Britain and France before moving to the United States. "They get a sense of what ordinary people in Germany think about, talk about and what their problems and aspirations are. Being part of the workforce of a country gives you cultural insights that you can't get any other way."

As with many internships, the students gain an appreciation for what it's like to do a certain job and acquire an entry for their résumés. Johnson, who hopes to become a chemical engineer, said her internship has solidified her interest in the field. Gabryszewski, who plans to major in molecular biology, is considering a career in the medical field and said he has learned a great deal about patient care.

Becker also credits the program with spurring the students' personal growth. Johnson said that the opportunity to be on her own and to travel in Europe has expanded her horizons immeasurably.

"Having to get an apartment for myself was one of the hardest things I have had to do, as I had never even done that in America and suddenly I needed to get one in a foreign country," she said. "I am having to provide everything for myself for the first time in my life, and my parents are not able to help me."

"The program is giving me a chance to visit Europe, something I really wanted to do," Johnson added. "My family does not really have enough money for traveling, so I had never been to Europe before and never really thought I would be able to go."