World traveler talks to students about life abroad
SALYERSVILLE – While students at Magoffin County High School have been utilizing virtual learning to explore the world over the last few weeks, on Tuesday they were able to meet representatives of the Reach The World program, talking to a German graduate student who has traveled to 22 different countries.
MCHS is part of an initiative called GOAL, funded by Kentucky Power, that helps fund virtual learning in the classroom. One of the programs, Reach The World, allows students to follow the journey of travelers in other countries. For the past few weeks, Justin Bailey’s integrated social studies classes have been following Elizabeth, a research student on the French and German border, speaking with her through virtual learning platforms. As part of International Student Week, Reach The World sent a representative to meet with the students in person.
On November 13, the integrated social studies classes hosted Nina Siegfried, a 22-year-old from Germany who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in sports administration at the University of Louisville.
When Siegfried was just 15 years old, she told her parents she wanted to study for a year in America.
“Fun fact, I was the kid that was always homesick,” Siegfried laughed. “I wouldn’t stay all night anywhere. Two weeks later I handed them information on two different programs and they knew I was serious.”
While her family has been supportive of her travels and adapted to her being all over the world, she said it was hard for them to trust another family to take care of their 15-year-old.
“My host family took such good care of me, though, that they became my family,” Siegfried explained.
She said the language was a bit of a challenge at first.
“I didn’t know English very well and I had to go to U.S. history class,” Siegfried remembered. “I wasn’t allowed to fail, that’s one of the rules of the program, so I had to keep my grades up.”
She would take notes, then translate the words she didn’t know on her iPod Touch, just to keep up with the work as she studied at Apollo High School in Owensboro, Kentucky.
“Everyone was so friendly,” Siegfried told the students. “Over 50 people came up to me that first day, asking how I’m doing.”
She explained to the students that it’s easier to adapt to different cultures and languages than one would think, but she recommends embracing the culture.
“I did gymnastics at home, so I did cheer because that’s more of the culture here,” Siegfried said.
Since coming to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student, Siegfried explained that she wanted to give back, so she’s also hosted an American exchange student in Germany.
Siegfried, in the Fulbright Program, explained to the students how she found the programs to study abroad, encouraging them to not be afraid to apply.
“There are so many times we don’t take opportunities to apply because you think you won’t get it, but you fail if you don’t apply,” Siegfried said. “It has opened the world up to me.”
She encouraged the students to apply to every program they’re interested in, even the ones they’re afraid they don’t qualify for, and to find a mentor to help them identify their strengths.
Siegfried studied for her undergraduate degree in the Netherlands, receiving her BA in international studies and management from Arnhem Business school. She also studied abroad in Hong Kong to receive a minor in marketing.
“The first time I came here it was my American dream,” Siegfried remembered. “I went home and didn’t want to be home. I started traveling and now I can live everywhere.”
She also emphasized that traveling doesn’t have to be expensive.
“My friend showed me that they were spending $2,000 on a 10-day trip to Florida, but I can take that two grand and give you 14 days all across Europe.”
Siegfried explained that knowing where to find the cheap flights, then utilizing the public transportation, can make traveling very accessible.
She talked with the students about the cultural differences between America and Germany, but explained there is more bleed over recently, attributing some of the shift to Netflix offering more American shows in Germany.
Bailey asked Siegfried if she had to face any stigma from America’s history with Germany.
“For sure. A lot of times people say ‘you’re not as rude as I thought,’ but we’re not rude people. Our language sounds harsh, so people make that stereotype. I get faced with history a lot, but you have to understand that they teach us how bad the mistakes were (during World War II) and why it should never go this way, again.”
She explained that the culture of Germany has changed so much in the past 30 to 50 years that the old stereotypes don’t really compare to the current culture of the country.
Siegfried also encouraged the students to study abroad, explaining that it will help when they go into the job market, as well.
“You will be competing for jobs with people that have been all over the world and they’ll get the job because of those experiences,” she explained.
After one of the students asked her what her favorite foods were, she named off many traditional German foods, then American foods, professing an addiction to Cold Stone ice cream.
“Once you start traveling, you never have your heart in one place,” she explained, noting that she had friends all over the world.
Siegfried shared her email address and her Instagram with the students, offering a helping hand for any that may want to look into a foreign exchange student program.