Sprechen Sie Science?

BU Abroad: A personal account of a semester in Dresden

November 12, 2008
Twitter Facebook
A view of Dresden. (Below) Kelsey Herwig (SAR’11) ran in the Dresden Marathon during her semester in BU’s Dresden science study abroad program.

BU Today reporters are visiting campuses across Europe this month to learn more about Boston University study abroad programs. In all, the University has 75 study abroad programs — in language, liberal arts, fine arts, engineering, and science — in more than 20 countries around the world. During the next few weeks, BU Today will be publishing students’ accounts of their international experiences. Click here to learn more about Gabriela Fish in Madrid

Kelsey Herwig is spending her semester trying to master organic chemistry, cell biology, and statistics. She is also dodging bikes and exploring the markets and baroque churches along the foggy Elbe River. Herwig is one of about two dozen Boston University students participating in BU’s Dresden study abroad program.

Among the challenges: finding her way around the city and making herself understood. “We don’t speak much German,” says Herwig (SAR’11), “but with a lot of the students and the people we meet in the dorms, they like to learn from us and work on their English, and we can work on our German a little bit.”

Herwig spoke with BU Today about the classes she’s taking and the Dresden nightlife, and about what she misses most back home.


I’d always wanted to study abroad and I knew BU had many good programs, but I’m a human physiology major and Dresden is the only one dedicated to science. Plus, my family has very strong German roots. We’ve lived in Minnesota for the past five years, but we’re originally from Wisconsin, where my dad’s grandparents immigrated from Germany. My great-grandma still speaks German, and she has cousins over here whom I’ve never met.

This summer, getting ready for this semester, I did a bit of German with the Rosetta Stone program. The next challenge was packing. It was literally trying to condense everything I’d need for the whole semester into two suitcases. I vacuum-packed my clothes, which let me bring a couple more sweatshirts, but with shoes, I really had to limit myself.

We arrived in Dresden in mid-August. I was so tired, and everything we did the first few days was a lot of administrative work and getting to know the city and everybody else in the program, so it was a little overwhelming. But by midweek it was a little better, and I was able to familiarize myself with the city. We started classes earlier than the German students at the Technische Universität Dresden, and so for the first week or so it was basically just us wandering around Dresden. But then when the university started up again and the German students returned, it started to feel a little more like a typical college experience, almost like being back in Boston.

I’m taking organic chemistry, statistics, cell biology, and German. We all take classes together, and it’s a much smaller group than you typically get at BU, so lectures are more one-on-one and you can ask questions a little more easily. It’s probably about the same amount of work I’d be doing in Boston, but back home I also had two jobs — I worked in a Sargent research lab and once a week at the BU Pub.


Dresden was part of the former East Germany, and while it’s been part of a united Germany for nearly two decades, you can still sense the influence — the remains of its communist past. It’s a lot quieter, for example, a lot more still than Boston or the other cities in Europe we’ve visited.

The city is divided in two, with the Elbe River running down the middle. Where we are, the dorm and the campus, is a little more of a suburban area, a little more family-oriented. As you move toward the river, you get into what they call the old city, and that’s where all the baroque buildings were before they were destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II and where they’ve rebuilt many of them. And across the river, you get into Neustadt, or the new city, and that’s where a lot of the bars and nightclubs are. That’s where you find a lot of the younger people. Still, a lot of the German students here actually go home on weekends, so when you’re going out to clubs, most of the action is throughout the week and not so much on the weekends.

We did a lot of traveling our first six weeks here, because they had weekend excursions planned for us — a weekend in Prague, a brewery tour, a visit to the Fortress Königstein, about 45 minutes south of here. My favorite excursion was the bike tour of Berlin. We also had a week off in late October, and I went to Barcelona for the first half of that and Dublin the second half.

A few days before I left on break, I ran a 10K as part of the Dresden Marathon. I ran cross country in middle school and high school, and in college I run for fun, including a few races. When we found out there was a 10K as part of the marathon, about eight of us decided to run. I wanted to do it for the experience and to see all the German runners. It’s such an international sport that it’s pretty much the same wherever you go.

But some things are definitely different here. For one thing, there are tons of bikes on campus and bike lanes everywhere. You actually have to be careful, because they will run you over. I know a couple friends who bought bikes at the flea market that’s held every Saturday morning along the river, and they’re pretty open about sharing the bikes with you if you really need one. But, once we got our semester ID from Technische Universität, we could use it to ride the trams for free. Now that it’s getting a little colder, that’s a little nicer than biking everywhere.

By far the biggest cultural adjustment has been getting used to the language and trying to find a way around the city and places like grocery stores without really knowing what’s going on — trying to ask for directions, trying to find people who speak English so you can somewhat understand each other. We don’t speak much German, but with a lot of the students and the people we meet in the dorms, they like to learn from us and work on their English, and we can work on our German a little bit. And it really helps.


On the night of the election, I was just studying and relaxing. A lot of people watched the results on TV at the student bar where we live, but I went to bed a little early that night. It didn’t hit me until the next morning when I woke up and found out the results from friends who were still awake at that time. As one of my friends here pointed out, it’s kind of crazy that we’re hearing about the election in the United States here in the old East Germany. This could never have happened at the time we were born. But now, we could see that a lot of Germans, including our teachers, were really into politics, and they love to talk to us about politics and government in the States.


I miss my friends in Boston, a lot. We talk on webcams, but we have an Internet limit in the dorms here, so you can’t really talk for very long — maybe an hour a day — and if you check e-mail or watch TV online or something, it all takes away from your Internet time. If you go over, you’re cut off for a week. I also really miss my dog back home in Minnesota. Of course, I would miss him if I were in Boston, too.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.

Explore Related Topics:

  • Share this story
  • 7 Comments Add


Sprechen Sie Science?

  • Kelsey Herwig (SAR’11)

    Kelsey Herwig (SAR’11) Profile

Comments & Discussion

Boston University moderates comments to facilitate an informed, substantive, civil conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, misleading, incoherent or off-topic comments will be rejected. Moderators are staffed during regular business hours (EST) and can only accept comments written in English. Statistics or facts must include a citation or a link to the citation.

There are 7 comments on Sprechen Sie Science?

  1. After reading your article I recalled my childhood when I used to go to my uncle to Dresden. It is one of the most beautiful places in the whole Germany, so many historical places, wonderful landscapes… 

  2. You know, I was doing a little casual job hunting the other day and I was really surprised at how many jobs require fluency in another language. Any job seeker who is fluent in two languages can tap into a very large niche of job opportunities not available to the “average Joe.”

    In Decatur schools, all children in grades K-5 have 30 minutes of immersion foreign language (Spanish) instruction every day of the week. They design the Spanish classes around the regular curriculum so that they reinforce the skills that the kids are learning in their regular classes. For instance, if the kids are learning about the solar system in science… they talk about the solar system in Spanish class too.

    Foreign language is currently available as an elective in middle school here, but I believe that it will become mandatory in the next year or two when the middle school becomes an IB school.

    Spanish is my oldest child’s favorite subject and she is quite good at it after all these years. My younger child loves Spanish also. From my observation, just the mental exercise of learning a second language helps them in all subjects – the mental discipline required is just good for the brain. Plus, Libros Gratis as I mentioned earlier – it reinforces what they are learning in other classes.

    I wouldn’t expect the bubbas around the GA legislature to get all that though so I wouldn’t expect much statewide. My guess is that the bubbas and their constituents feel that if their kids learn a second language it would attract “feriners” and we wouldn’t want that. ;)

  3. In Dresden students will meet individually with Frau Werner to learn about campus resources and policies. She will also assist students in scheduling appointments to meet with faculty members. A Hochschule student will take the student on tour of the facility, the dorm, a tour of the local surroundings and assist with opening a bank account. The Hochschule student will also take the Capital student to the Studentenwerk to complete the application process for the dorm room.
    Submited by : Caballos

Post a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *