Daniel Garratt, Double Major in Physics and German: Why it makes sense for STEM students to study German

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Daniel Garratt: Why it makes sense for STEM students to study German
Spring in Vienna 2015

Daniel Garratt participated in our study abroad UW Germanics “Spring in Vienna” program in spring 2015 and in the Physics Department exchange with the University of Giessen in the academic year 2015-16.

Daniel writes:

"Upon leaving high school I had no intention to study language again. Because my high school offered Spanish, French and Japanese, I had never even considered studying German.  It was not until I decided I wanted to study abroad that my sights fell on foreign language, and even then, my decision to learn German was informed entirely by Germany being the only destination for travel through the Physics department.

After realizing my interest in Physics, I approached the undergraduate advisor to inquire about studying abroad. I didn’t particularly care where I could go, I just wanted to go somewhere different.  I was told about the year-long exchange program to a small German city named Giessen.  My initial skepticism was assuaged after a lengthy discussion wherein my advisor relayed just about everything she knew of past students’ experiences.  One relieving piece of information was that, per some former exchange students, many of the courses are, by default or at the request of the student, taught in English.  This turned out to be false (although I would not find out until I went to Germany).  Despite thinking I would not need to speak German to pass my classes and having heard that many Germans, especially younger generations, are quite proficient in English, I still felt it best to learn at least some of the native language before going abroad.  This decision, although seemingly negligible at the time, ended up being of paramount significance.

I quickly took a liking to the language courses.  With a strong emphasis on interaction with classmates and teachers, it was a nice break from the more repetitive, lecture-style Physics courses I was taking at the time.  At some point during the 100-level courses, a faculty member came in to my classroom to speak about the Spring in Vienna study abroad opportunity.  I was still set on travelling to Germany for the Physics exchange, but, after some thought, I concluded that a trip to Vienna would only yield another great experience so I decided to apply for that program as well.  The following year, after I had applied for Vienna and Germany, I found out that I would be going on both trips within about a two-week period (as it turned out, there were fewer applicants to go to Germany than there were spaces in the program).  Between enjoying my courses and having met many great people in the major, I concluded in the quarter preceding the Vienna trip that I wanted to pursue German studies further and get a degree, a decision for which, despite requiring additional time at the university, I have no regrets. 

It isn’t possible for me to describe every way my ability to speak German facilitated my experience abroad.  That said, I can highlight several of the more prominent opportunities it provided me.  Being able to converse made much of day-to-day life easier.  From opening a bank account to asking for directions, ordering food and drink and making small talk with locals, speaking German not only enhanced my learning and cultural experience, but it was also a major component in making friends (believe or not, not everyone speaks English).  With regards to Germany, not knowing German would almost certainly have resulted in me failing every Physics course I took (as previously alluded to, the lecture, homework and tests were all in German, but the faculty and TA’s were ready and able to help whenever needed).  Lastly, many of the relationships I developed abroad have become lasting connections.  I still maintain contact with my overseas friends in hopes that when I travel back to Europe for an internship, school or work (something I wish to do soon) I can reconnect with them. 

Having had no plans to learn a language at the UW, I now find it astounding how much of the past several years I owe to studying German.  With only one quarter left in my undergraduate studies, I find myself unwilling to be done with German after graduating, and am looking for a way to combine my studies of Physics and Germanics.  With plenty of great universities and jobs to find there, I hope to yet again find myself meeting people, making connections and building a life abroad.  And, if all goes well, I will be doing so in what used to be a foreign language."