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PROFILE: E-Mails from Annelle: Coping While Co-oping a World Away

While working in Germany as part of her international co-op assignment, Annelle Suszkiw is given hair-raising amounts of responsibility and then goes out of control.

Date: 11/3/2003 8:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Annelle Suszkiw and friends
UC ingot Annelle Suszkiw, 22, a resident of Sycamore Township, is about as far from Cincinnati as she ever figured to be. 
Annelle at the Ubahn, the subway
Annelle at the Ubahn, the subway

Annelle, a junior in UC’s top-ranked graphic design program, part of the prestigious College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, is working and living in Germany for six months as part of the university’s International Co-op Program.  That program provides intensive language and cultural training and then places students in Germany, Japan and Latin America.  It’s all part of “Co-op” at UC. 

Cooperative Education, the practice of alternating academic quarters with paid work related to a major, had its worldwide founding at UC in 1906.  For some majors at UC, it’s required.  For others, co-op is optional. 

Annelle started co-oping in her sophomore year…but always in the United States.  Her July-through-December 2003 opportunity to work in Europe with MetaDesign in Berlin, one of Europe’s leading corporate design firms, is her first extended stay overseas.  She’s written several e-mails home about what it’s like to co-op and cope halfway round the globe.


August 5, 2003    Hair-raising amounts of responsibility
My first day consisted of being assigned to the Wella (hair products) team and designing a concept package to send to the client the next day in Freehand, a vector-based illustrating program, which I did not know and had to learn in German.  Yikes!

We are redesigning two lines of professional hair products for Wella.  As a graphic designer, I work very closely with the 3-D team to support the identity that Wella is seeking.  When I came onto the team, the process was at the very beginning so I have been participating from the idea stage.  It has been challenging to communicate in German when I try to explain my design concepts, but that will come.  Otherwise, the preparation that the ICP provided with the language supplement has been excellent.  All I need is a bit more confidence in myself as far as speaking goes!

There are a lot of museums and events going on in Berlin. I could go for days without ever coming home if I so chose. It is unbelievably easy to travel.  I have so far been able to make trips over the weekends so as to maximize my experience. Overall, I absolutely love it! I will find a way to come back as soon as possible!
Mit freundlich Grub (with friendly greetings!), Annelle


August 21, 2003    She's outta of control
I have found that not having a car is really a wonderful thing!  Aside from not having the expenses such as gas, car washes, and oil changes, it is much less stressful.

Traveling by train in Italy
Traveling by train in Italy

I found an apartment that is about a 20-minute walk or a short bus ride, if you get your timing right, from my office. In fact if I am rushed in the morning, it is faster for me to walk than to take the bus. So the bus is only good really if I am feeling lazy. The transportation system here in Berlin is fantastic and simple to use. But I never leave the house without a map. Berlin is so big that even if I have gone somewhere more than once, chances are I will still get lost if I don´t have a map. I have accepted the notion that even though I live here in Berlin, I will always look like a tourist with my huge map.

The transportation system operates on an honor system. It is assumed that passengers will have a ticket so only sometimes, and very randomly, are the passengers “controlled.” By controlled, I mean passengers are checked for their tickets. The risk of getting caught, and having to pay the large fine, if one is caught without a ticket, deters people from cheating the system. I have been “controlled” once, and it was a close call but not because I was trying to get a free ride. It was the first day I was here in Berlin. I was taking the bus from my apartment to work, and I paid the bus driver for a ticket. I was thinking about other things and completely forgot to actually take the ticket. The bus driver doesn´t hand it to you. Instead it comes out automatically from a slot.

I sat down and remembered seconds later that I forgot to take a ticket when I saw the controllers at the next stop, and I just thought to myself, “Oh God, how am I going to explain this to them in German?”  My vocabulary isn´t that big yet. Fortunately I was able to mumble something German enough that the controllers were willing to let me talk to the bus driver to try and get a ticket, because I had only just paid, and I was hoping he would remember. When questioned by the controller, the bus driver played dumb, shrugging his shoulders and didn’t say anything. But then he printed out another ticket for me.  I more than got the point.  I will never travel without a ticket!  

September 26, 2003   Food for thought
It is impossible to spend more than $12 even if I buy groceries for a whole week, and that´s including a bottle of red wine to complement my standard pasta dinner.  The stores here are small, and they just don´t have the option of large and massive-sized packages.  Rather, they only have small packages of goods. It makes sense too because at the end of your shopping trip, you have to carry everything home in one little canvas bag.  A shopping trip here is cheese, a bag of pasta, and a half liter box of milk. It is not typical to buy produce or bread at these little grocery stores.  Instead, the streets are lined with fresh produce stands, as well as fresh bakeries. The frequency of these stands and bakeries is comparable to the frequency of gas stations and fast-food restaurants in the States…like every corner and across the street from each other, if not next to each other! And on weekends, there are huge markets set up all over the city with stands of all the fresh fruit and vegetables imaginable. 

A train with a view in Italy
A train with a view in Italy

It´s really wonderful to have fresh fruit every day. And it is some of the best fruit I have ever tasted. And I am addicted to the fresh bread. Typical are the little rolls. Everyone eats them for breakfast and lunch as little sandwiches with butter, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, meat, spreads or jams. My absolute favorite is the pumpkin seed rolls. I stop at a bakery every day on my way to work to buy two or three to smother with margarine and nutella, a  sweet hazelnut spread. So tasty. I am really going to miss that when I come back to the States.
Liebe gruss (greeting with love), Annelle

October 20, 2003    Livin' large
The emphasis on quality of life here is much greater, I find. America is plagued with workaholics. What is the saying?  Live to work, or work to live. Yes, Europeans definitely work a little bit to live, but they live a lot.

Beer garden band
Beer garden band

In general the people here are very open minded and it makes sense because of the accessibility to completely different cultures. It has been so amazing, the ability to travel and see so many different countries while I have been here. Because of the size and compactness of Europe, a level of tolerance and acceptance of other cultures has to exist.  The mentality of the people has been really refreshing. From the people that I have met, I have been pleasantly surprised in the variety of interests that they have. The European co-ops that I currently work with seem to all have plans to go to another co-op or to get a masters degree in another country like Hungary or Spain once they have completed their term at Meta. How exciting. I plan to come back to school, and once I’ve finished a school, get a job. So do I live to work, or work to live?

October 30, 2003    A "u-turn" back to Germany? 
So far, the experience has been unbelievable.  To be totally honest, I didn’t know what to expect and that’s kept me from any disappointments. I knew I didn’t have experience with living in a foreign country and trying to completely integrate myself into the way of life there.

I was nervous about coming here as a result of my first co-op experience.  For my first co-op, I moved to Louisville, and I didn’t know anybody there.  I ended up coming home almost every weekend.

Top of the Reichstag
Annelle and a fellow co-op on top of the Reichstag, the parliament building

So, I had that in the back of my head the entire time I was preparing for this program. Because if I didnąt like it in Germany, I didn’t have the option to come home every weekend!

But I think Berlin was the perfect place for me to come. This city has it all. Everything you can think of happens here -- political, social, cultural, events, all day, every day. I find it very easy to feel at home in Berlin.

The only thing that has been frustrating and disappointing is my lack of confidence in my ability to speak German. My ability and comfort with speaking German has increased ten-fold since I have been here. I have received numerous compliments on my German, which has been really satisfying. But if you asked me, I still don’t think it’s good, good enough. I have to keep reminding myself that I have been living here for four months. I have gone to work every day, and I have survived. Not only survived, but I have done a very satisfactory job as a co-op, and I only speak German, so it must be functional, right?

Still, I get extremely nervous when speaking, waves of panic even!  It’s ridiculous!  There is no denying that I am a perfectionist and that is the point where, I believe, my problems begin.  I am afraid of not understanding what they need me to do at work, or not being able to explain myself, which I hate! So instead of speaking I find it much easier to be quiet and passive, which I really have a hard time doing because that really isn’t me.  I have a strong personality, and I am very active and energetic. I feel like I have really suppressed my personality since I’ve been here. And because I get so nervous speaking German, I feel like that has kept me from being able to develop friendships and finding companions.

But it is also a part of being new, which is the same experience for anyone new anywhere of varying degrees. Everyone has their own agendas, and it really takes an effort to change that agenda to include someone or something new. I find that I have made myself as available as possible, organizing get-togethers, inviting people to do things with me, always accepting an invitation that I receive in order to give myself every chance to talk German and meet people.

It has really made me think differently about how I will, from this point on, perceive and treat new people whether it be in a course, at a job or in the neighborhood.

I wish I could write more, but the work day just seems to disappear!  I have not quite two months more in Germany, and the time is just flying by!  Since my time here is temporary, it somehow seems exhausting.  I suppose I feel the need to do so much with the time that I have here that I find I am always busy.  I find it really exciting to look forward to my return, to seeing how my experience affects my work.  It will also be extremely interesting to see how I return to the social environment that I left because I sure am different.  I am very motivated and eager about returning and planning the next venture, which very well may be turning around and coming right back!
Ciao, Annelle

More photos from Annelle 


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