German student experiences America through exchange program

Olga Renner, Fort Hays State University graduate student, made the trip to the Midwest like many other Volga Germans.  Renner, however, made the trip for an education instead of farmland, and she arrived about 140 years later than the first Volga Germans to Ellis County.

Now living in Hays, Renner is from Recklinghausen, Germany, and is attending FHSU as part of the exchange program with the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. The agreement allows 12 FHSU students the opportunity to spend four weeks in Germany in exchange for one German student for the summer and fall semesters at FHSU.

"One of my English professors asked me about it and wanted to know if I was interested," said Renner. "I said 'of course!' "

Initially, Renner was only planning to attend school here for one semester, but things have changed.

"Now I'm getting my whole degree from FHSU, which is just awesome," said Renner. "I think that this is something that catches the eye when you read a resume."

Renner is working towards an MLS degree in English, but the subject is very different in the United States as opposed to Germany.

"I studied English as a second language," she said. "Studying English here would be like me studying German in Germany. It's more literature and writing than language and culture."

That doesn't mean she can put the language portion of her education aside, however.

 "I experienced that I lack a lot of every day vocabulary," she said. "The first time I went to the supermarket, I was so glad there were signs beneath the vegetables."   

Luckily vegetables don’t figure in much with academic writing, although there are differences she wasn't accustomed to.

"Academic writing in Germany is a bit different from English academic writing," she said. "In Germany they want you to have very formal, complex and complicated sentence structure. Here is it short and concise."

The differences weren't restricted to the academic world, either.

"The cities are different. Your streets are numbered," she said.  "I love Hays for its logical structure. In Germany the streets just have random names."

Renner is very happy to be studying at FHSU.

"I like Hays a lot," she said. "It's a nice town and a nice community with very authentic and nice people who are very helpful."

"I was really lucky to end up in Kansas, because you guys don't have a very strong accent," she said. "When I went to Mississippi, I loved the university, but I would have had a hard time understanding people."

Renner hopes that by studying in America it will give her a leg up when she is in the market for a job.

"It's a huge improvement for my language skills," she said.  "I also think there is something unusual about having a degree from a foreign university."

As far as what she wants to do when school is over, she isn't sure.

"I did an internship at a human-aid organization in Germany called 'Kindernothilfe,' and I really liked that," she said. "I would like to continue in the non-profit field."

Kindernothilfe is a non-profit organization based out of Duisburg. It supports more than 300,000 children and young people in 27 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

During the internship, Renner worked heavily on a national campaign about HIV/AIDS.

"It was the beginning of the campaign, so we put together the Web site, recruited volunteer students and organized a youth conference," she said. "I hadn't ever done anything like that before. It was really interesting."

No matter where she ends up, she is sure to be changed for the better after her stay at FHSU.

"It is awesome, and I'm really thankful for the opportunity," she said. "I've experienced American culture, not just studied it from an outside perspective. It has really broadened my horizons."

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