That first year in Marburg certainly changed my life!
Because I wanted to study chemistry(even though the university so helpfully matriculated me in Germanistik, and refused to change it), our Director Jim Dwyer took me up to the Lahnberge to see a chemistry professor who had married a BCA student. He seemed to think I wanted to party all year or something, but I earnestly said I really wanted to take a regular lab course (i.e. from 8 am to 6 pm Mon-Fri), like any German chemistry student. As he was an inorganic chemist, I had to choose between the beginner's lab (1st semester chemistry) or the advanced inorganic lab, which people take after the Vordiplom. Well, not wanting to repeat stuff, I decided instead to jump in way over my head and take the advanced lab. Prof. Siebert said it was OK, because I “was going to be going away anyway”. Little did he know it wouldn’t turn out that way.
Winter semester ’77-’78 was really tough. I had a lot less lab experience than everyone else in the lab. Both Assistenten teaching the course spoke Swabian dialect, which is notoriously difficult for even for (non-Swabian) Germans to understand. And the hours were long. But everyone in the lab was so helpful, showing me how to do stuff, explaining how things worked, what should be in a "Protokoll" (lab report), how to deal the nasty guy in the glass room. I found the solidarity of the students quite remarkable, not the dog-eat-dog competition one sometimes finds in the US. I muddled through, and by the end of the semester was doing OK.
Evenings and weekends, I had my other set of friends in the Schloss (castle), Collegium Philippinum. (And a boyfriend...) I was learning to cook, mostly on Sundays when the Mensa was closed. I experienced the democracy at its most basic level, with the interminable discussions about topics such as the purchase of pots for the kitchens in our weekly house meetings. And learned to understand German even against loud music (in English) at parties.
Summer semester I took the advanced p-chem lab, which was easier because I had the same lab partner all semester. I helped him with the math and he helped me with the German.
Upon returning to Juniata, I wondered, "It was really tough, but did I really learn any chemistry?" After a few weeks of classes, I realized the answer was "YES". I hadn't learned the same set of facts as the stay-at-homes, but I hadn’t fallen behind either. And I was much more self-confident and independent.
I had changed though. I found it's much easier to be a foreigner in a foreign land than a foreigner at home.
After finishing up at Juniata in ’79, I returned to Marburg, back to my beloved Schloss. I picked up where I had left off, getting my Diplom in ’82 and Dr. rer. nat. in polymer chemistry in ’85. I got a job in chemical industry in Wiesbaden and live with my husband (also a chemist) in Alzey, a wine-growing town near Mainz. Life is good.
When I face a challenge, I often think back to winter semester ’77-’78. I mastered that challenge, so I can handle others too.