Our current brand new stipis have just returned from their exchange over in a German winter. Isn't it great to have student exchange back again? We continue our series of articles looking back at SAGSE Scholarship recipients from over the years, hearing about their recollections and seeing where their lives' journeys have led them.
Sofia writes to us this month from Belgrade, where she has been living for the past few months.
Year of Exchange: 2014/15
Group Leader: Mark Rowe
School: Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School
Sponsor: DB Schenker
Town / city of exchange in Germany: Backnang (near Stuttgart)
The feeling of awe as I caught the train from Frankfurt to Stuttgart on my own after just arriving, sketching the foggy trees outside; my host mother sitting me down to gently tell me about WWII on my very first morning; New Year’s Eve with my host father and siblings in Switzerland; months of beautiful Christmas markets and all the accompanying festive traditions; playing categories in German with my host family; merciless snowfights and building a snow igloo in our backyard; persuading my friends to go to Leipzig on free travel so I could visit the Runde Ecke museum I had read so much about while preparing my German exam; discovering all the cultural and linguistic overlap between Germany and Serbia, and teaching my host family about my background; seemingly endless hilarious train travel with far too much luggage!
While it was a bit painful at the time, my host family’s insistence that I should only speak German meant that I returned motivated (also by the inspiring experience of the exchange itself) to continue with German. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at Monash University, majoring in German Studies and Linguistics - my only regret is that I didn’t make it back to Germany on another language exchange. I continued my studies with an Honours year in Linguistics, researching the link between language and identity in Serbian families in Melbourne, and even got to spend a couple of weeks at Warwick University, England on a research scholarship working on multilingualism and translation.
I spent the fog of 2020 unsure about my next steps, half-heartedly preparing a PhD proposal in Linguistics. Happily, this didn’t work out, and I began working at SEEK, which was a rich first experience in the corporate world and my first foray into copywriting. It also gave me the flexibility to devote myself to my other great love, salsa.
In August 2022 I - impulsively - moved to my motherland to reconnect with my roots and chase the adventure of living overseas, which I’d craved since my first taste of life in Germany. I’m now working in Customer Support for the digital marketing and SEO platform Semrush, and trying to see as much as possible of my beautiful homeland, and enjoy the cheap airfares in Europe in my spare time.
SAGSE was a phenomenal opportunity in an important time of “coming of age” - it opened my eyes to the possibilities of studying German in Australia, taught me independence, confidence, and accountability, and allowed me to experience firsthand living, breathing history, which can sometimes feel so far away in Australia. It also gave me and my family a real sister, who we are still close with and have visited since, and myself lifelong friends. While I haven’t yet pursued my German studies in my professional life, it is gratifying to know that foreign languages, and especially German, are valued incomparably more outside of Australia - I even bonded over German with locals in Mexico! I am indebted to SAGSE and to the tireless efforts of our wonderful alumni for such a meaningful opportunity. SAGSE validated and encouraged my respect for language, culture, and history, and will continue to shape my experiences through these fundamental lessons.
I’ve never been more fulfilled since moving overseas. I aim to continue with copywriting in my spare time and creep into the tourism industry in Serbia, maybe one day running tours for Aussies (and Germans) who want to experience the three pillars of culture here - history, language, and food and drink!
Preview - Next month we will hear from a Melbourne lad from the year before Sofia, who loved Germany so much that he is now living in Berlin, where he works for ebay!