Student Profiles - Paul McGonigal
Major: International studies with a minor in German.
Hometown: Springfield, Pa.
What made you want to attend Millersville?
I looked at Millersville University for their international studies program and discovered that they were very prestigious in this department. International studies was a subject that I was growing an interest in so I decided to attend Millersville both for the tuition cost and the college of study. Since then I have fallen in love with the school.
What peaked your interest about the International Undergraduate Study Program (IUSP)?
Since high school, I have loved the German culture and language. I wanted to study abroad as soon as I could. Marburg, the university which I attended while abroad, offers two study programs. One is total submersion; the other is the International Undergraduate Study Program (IUSP). The IUSP is an English supplemented and Americanized semester. There is an intensive German class for half of the semester and then we would switch into normal classes with German students at the university. This allows for a more relaxed feeling, which enabled me to travel extensively around Europe.
Can you speak German? Do you think it’s important for students to be multi-lingual?
Yes, I have taken four years of German in high school, four semesters at Millersville and the courses I took abroad. In my opinion, modern language in this country is an under taught language. I understand that for 99 percent of the population English will suffice for their entire lives, but with that reasoning we could also rid calculus from high school as well. Becoming bi-lingual or multi-lingual allows us to use different parts of our brain and helps us to better understand other cultures rather than just our own.
What was the most challenging aspect of taking classes in Germany?
As one of the only Americans in the class I stood out. Second, the language barrier was sometimes apparent between myself and the professor, especially if the professor is from a different country and can only speak German as his first language. These were some problems faced by my friends; I however, had very little difficulty with my professors.
Does Marburg really live up to its reputation of being known for its stairs and alleys?
One will climb more stairs and become lost in more alleys that lead to nowhere in one day than a lifetime anywhere else. Marburg’s old city, die Altestadt, is what remains of the castle walls, fortifications and the town that was within those walls. It is also built onto a giant hillside. So, not only is one walking up a hill, they are also walking up the remains of large castles outside walls. Everything is old cobblestone as well, so in the winter this makes walking around very vicarious. Naturally, as Americans, we made a game to see who could go the longest without falling down.
Were the dorm rooms in Germany different than the ones at Millersville?
Yes, they were very different. Everyone from my study abroad group, IUSP, was sent to different dorms across the town, four in total. However, every room we had was about the same, just different layouts, size and proximity to the city center. Mine was located on the southern end of town; Christian-Wolf Haus was the name of the dorm. Each dorm was a single room with a desk, two chairs and a sink. The wings of the halls, about 10 rooms per wing, shared two showers and two bathrooms. Each wing also had a common room with a refrigerator, freezer and a kitchen. Communal cooking and shared meals were common for dinner.
Did you have any interesting experiences interacting with the townspeople?
Since high school I have been a firefighter and my second semester freshman year here at Millersville I became a volunteer firefighter as well. When I was in Marburg I did some research and was able to locate the fire house there and figured out the lingo to describe that I was also a firefighter. I met with the fire chief and a week later I was training every Tuesday with the volunteer firefighters of Marburg. Needless to say, it was interesting. I also taught them new tactics and rescue procedures that they still use today.
When did you first become interested in becoming a firefighter?
While I was in high school I began taking basic firefighter classes in my home county, Delaware. The school was two nights a week, four hours each night and every Saturday for eight hours. This was about a 200 hour class. It covered just the very basics. Since then I have taken many more classes while at Millersville.
Did this overall experience add or detract to what you want to do after graduation?
I think it confirmed that I would like to work in an area with Germans or in Germany. I am looking into working with the National Security Agency or to be a Foreign Service Officer and work in U.S. embassy’s around the world.
What did you think of the medieval architecture in Marburg?
When we first arrived in Marburg it was outstanding, we had never seen such structures before in our lives. However, after a month or two seeing castles in the center of towns became very normal and lost their luster. My mom came for a weekend and she said that the whole town reminded her of the Harry Potter series. Now she understood where the author got the ability to describe such things in her books.
What was the best memory of your trip?
One that sticks out is the weekend before I left. The fire department in town where I volunteered had a Christmas party. When I studied German in high school the teacher had us sing German Christmas songs and we didn’t exactly understand it. However, being surrounded by real Germans, eating classic German Christmas cookies and singing with them really made for an experience of which I know I am few to partake.
What advice would you give to students contemplating studying abroad?
Have no doubt in your mind that it will be the most amazing time of your life. Even if it may seem daunting in the beginning and scary the first days there, if you stick it out it will leave you with such memories you will never forget.
How has Millersville helped you succeed?
Since being at Millersville I have been able to get to know myself. High school left me with my core personal values, but Millersville has allowed me to refine them into something that I can market. Not just in the job sense; however, in this day and age that might be all one needs, but also the personal skills needed in life in general.