“Germany is a really cool place to live!”
Since the age of six when he and his sister first attended the Concordia Language Village Waldsee, Nicholas Bollweg has sought out unique opportunities to learn German. Over the years, he attended Waldsee ten times as a camper or counselor, arranged for his own independent high school exchange with a distant relative in Germany, enrolled in the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options program at the University of Minnesota, and worked and studied in Germany through the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals. Through these varied experiences, he has developed a profound understanding and appreciation of German culture, not to mention phenomenal language skills. He has become, to use his own words, “a world citizen.”
Here at the U of M, Nick is double majoring in German and Computer Science, two disparate fields that allow him to explore his wide range of interests. While he considers computers his vocation, he “didn't want to just do computer science. Those courses instruct you to think one way from the very beginning, whereas with German, it is much more open. They're giving you tools for inquiry into different fields.” In Nick's case, he “got interested in theater, poems and media, which in turn got [him] interested not just in the German language, but in Germany.” Nick has found that he's not alone in the Department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch when it comes to having two majors. “You meet a lot of really neat people who also have a lot of disparate interests,” and the courses offered reflect that diversity. As he put it, “You don't just read nineteenth-century philosophy.”
If you ask Nick why someone should major in German, he'll tell you that it enables you to live in another country and immerse yourself in a different culture - and “Germany is really a cool place to live!” As a German-speaking computer scientist, Nick was chosen to participate in the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals. In addition to taking several university courses, he worked in a German company using his computer science background to solve problems with user interface, compatibility, and transportability across networks. “I worked with a little event planning company in Cologne and helped them build their content management system so that clients could build their webpages. The two co-owners were 26 years old, and we were up until two in the morning a lot writing web pages and getting events together. It was a lot of fun and I'm still in contact with those guys. They were great.”
Working in a large German city provided Nick with more than the opportunity to expand his computer skills. It also brought him in contact with people from all over the world. “During my time in Germany, I gained the people skills necessary to work not just with people from the host country, but with all the other itinerant people, like me, who had come to do business, to learn, or just to live. Those skills were important to learn. They're applicable more and more in the Twin Cities and the nation in general. I think we have to learn again that we are a nation of immigrants.”
Ultimately, what Nick values most about studying German is gaining a better understanding of 20th-century events. As he puts it, “You can't understand the 20th century without understanding what went on and is going on in Germany.” His knowledge of German society allows him to compare different models of democracy and to reflect on the roles played by Germany and the United States, both historically and currently, in world affairs. Through formal study and immersion experiences, he has learned to consider various perspectives - a skill he uses when analyzing current events both at home and abroad, and has become, in essence, “the responsible world citizen” his first German camp counselor surely hoped he would be.
Bookstore - librería image courtesy Flickr user MorBCN