From lederhosen to biergartens, Maria Fernanda Ayala, a 22-year-old junior attending The University of Texas-Pan American, found herself totally immersed in the German culture for six months while still attending UTPA.
Ayala was the first to participate in a foreign exchange program between UTPA and the Lueneburg Business Law School, a program that took her to Germany this past spring.
"I was looking for something a little different, but at the same time practical," Ayala said. "This program was perfect. It offered college credit while at the same time it gave me a chance to check out a different culture."
The student exchange program was put together by Dr. David Neipert, assistant professor of management and international business at UTPA, who at one time attended Lueneburg Business Law School as a foreign exchange student himself.
"We have an international business degree here at UTPA, which mainly focuses on Latin America and not really on Europe," Neipert said. "I want my students to be well rounded and master all types of businesses, and this program is just the tool to help them achieve that goal."
"It was a really good deal," Ayala added. "If I wanted to spend some time at a university abroad, it would have been so much more expensive, but through this program, I paid UTPA tuition and spent enough time there to get a real feel of the place."
Ayala earned 12 hours of college coursework at UTPA, taking classes such as Single Marketing, International Business, Culture Seminar, Import and Export, Composition Law and a German language class.
"It was a real challenge," Ayala said. "I couldn't even speak the language when I arrived, but I sure was speaking it before I left."
Ayala said she found herself completely submerged in the German culture.
"There was no escaping it," Ayala said. "You couldn't take a break from the culture even if you wanted to. Everything was German from the food to the people. There was no way I was going to leave this place without learning something about Germany."
Although the trip was filled with the excitement and a sense of adventure, Ayala said she did occasionally miss the familiarity of home.
"I did become a little homesick," she said. "I especially missed Mexican food."
But with a little ingenuity, Ayala said she came up with some pretty good substitutes.
"I couldn't find any Mexican chiles, but I did manage to find some African chiles that worked pretty well," Ayala added, "and I did manage to find a few tortillas which were made in the UK. They weren't as good as the ones back home, but what are you going to do."
Ayala said the biggest challenge she felt she had to overcome in Germany was conducting the kind of basic living skills she took for granted back home, such as shopping, answering the telephone and finding her way around town.
"At first I had to get by with a lot of grunting and hand gestures," Ayala said. "It was very difficult, and I would get headaches every day because I would be concentrating very hard all the time, but before I knew it, I was speaking German. It's a real rewarding experience when you accomplish something like this."
For more information on the exchange program, contact Neipert at 956/381-3411.