Q&A: German exchange student reflects on his CMU experience


Hailing from Bochum, Germany, graduate student Dennis Duennwald is one of three German exchange students who are studying at Central Michigan University.

Duennwald is studying economic history through a foreign exchange between CMU and Ruhr University Bochum. This is not the first exchange program he has participated in. He studied for a year in Scotland, but had to leave two months early because of COVID-19. Additionally, Duennwald is a Teacher's Assistant for HST323: History of Native Americans with faculty member Michelle Cassidy. He said he's very thankful to have the opportunity to study here.

Central Michigan Life spoke with Duennwald on his experiences being a foreign exchange graduate student at Central Michigan University. 

CM Life: What has helped you adjust to being a student at CMU?

Duennwald: Two things. The first one is career options. So being a student here, getting a degree from another country, helps a lot for my goal to become a university professor. The other one is community. Getting to know other cultures and talking to other people is so valuable. Everyone should do this. I enjoy the community here and the career options.

What do you find to be the most interesting thing about being a foreign exchange student?

The stereotypes other people confront me with. It's really interesting to see what pre-judgments other people have and for them to see that it's not true. We share a lot of ways, even though many people don't think so. People think we are distant and that it's difficult to make social relations with Germans. I mean, probably for some that's true, but I think at least for me, I'm open to everyone and I like to talk to people.

What are some differences you've seen between a German university like Bochum and an American university like CMU?

It's much more personal here. How professors and students are talking to each other, sometimes it looks like they are friends, but (they're) not. In Germany, it's much more distanced. Also, how students behave in the classroom here. In Germany, they are more careful. Also, it's really a community. It feels like everyone wears the CMU hoodies and that would be impossible in Germany. No one would wear a hoodie from my university because everyone would say, 'He's identifying with his university. He's crazy.' This is probably one of the biggest differences too.

Are there any similarities? 

My professors here from the history department are super nice and they try to help us everywhere, and that's the same in Germany. So the support we get from the faculty is really, really good. But I think there are more differences. Yeah, similarities are difficult.

How has COVID-19 affected your exchange program?

It was much more stressful to get this position here. So COVID doesn't really affect my experience, but the biggest problem was getting over here. Otherwise, I feel like that in the U.S., COVID doesn't really play such a big role. For example, if I go in the supermarket, not many people wear their masks. I don't think that's such a dominant topic here than in Germany.

What sort of culture shocks have you experienced since coming to CMU?

Being asked, 'How are you doing?' every time. At first, I was like, 'Are you really asking me how I am doing?' and then someone told me it's just to say another way to say hello. People are much more open (when) they are talking to each other. It's much more easier here than in Germany. I don't know if it's superficial or if it's real. Everyone here talks to each other and is friendly. Also, the big cars and trucks being in the street is very different.