Alumni Spotlight: Spencer Simonides


I am a Junior Economics major at Pomona College. I grew up in Palo Alto, California and I, unfortunately, do not dance much but if I did I would probably Bernie because I've been feeling the Bern lately

Why did you pick this program?

I picked the European Union program because it offered me a unique opportunity to learn about Economics and politics in a very applied setting. The program is designed so that you learn about all kinds of aspects and Institutions of the European Union then get to actually visit them. The program seemed like a very unique opportunity because I was able to go abroad and experience living in a completely new place while learning all kinds of cool things about Europe economically and politically. All of this on top of the fact that Germany itself seemed like a great culture to immerse myself in and learn more about.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity. You have a chance to live in a new country and be exposed to new perspectives because all of your professors and most of the people you interact with abroad grew up in all kinds of different cultures. No matter how hard you try in the US nothing compares to throwing yourself into a completely new setting like moving abroad. The unique personal growth and self-awareness you can get from studying abroad make it an opportunity that can't be passed up in my mind. The friendships and memories I made abroad will undoubtedly stay with me for the rest of my life. Plus taking a semester away helped me have a greater appreciation for things I didn't even realize I took for granted at home.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Have an open mind. Don't be afraid to test your comfort zone and try new things. Adapting and learning from uncomfortable or challenging and new situations you put yourself in is incredibly powerful. If you open your mind, be adventurous, and seize all the opportunities you can while abroad you will be able to have incredible experiences you would never have expected when you left to go on the program. Freiburg, Europe, and this program specifically have so many amazing things to offer those who have the right mindset.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

My favorite story from abroad was a trip I took with a friend on the program very early on. Shortly after getting there she and I became fast friends and decided to pull a 37 hour trip to Vienna. 37 sounds very specific and that's because it is. The transportation to and from Vienna was about 12 hours both directions (10 hours of train riding with just shy of 2 hours of layovers in Frankfurt) then we were actually in Vienna for 13 hours. Most people thought we were crazy for taking this kind of trip but it seemed like a great idea to us so we figured "Hey, why not?"

We left around 8 at night on a Friday night and the train ride to Frankfurt was fairly uneventful we just hung out and talked. Surprisingly enough then we actually slept pretty well on the overnight train considering we were just sprawled out in a 6 person sitting compartment (think like the compartments from the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter). So when we got to Vienna it was a little cold but we were ready to seize the day! We saw the Schonbrunn Palace which was super cool and similar to Versailles, I tried my first coffee at the Cafe Central that Sigmund Freud used to frequent back in the glory days, hung out with her friends studying abroad in Vienna who showed us some cool local places to go and things to do then went to the Albertina (an art museum, I'm not really an art guy but it was tight). Vienna ended up being a real dark horse because you don't hear a lot about it but it was an amazing city. The most impactful part of the experience though was still yet to come on the train ride back from Vienna.

We got on the train and expected a fairly empty train like the one we had had on the way over. But we quickly realized that the train was actually completely packed to capacity with refugees from the middle east. Leading up to this point I had been hearing lots about the Refugee crisis but had had minimal first-hand exposure. Now though I found myself taking my seat in one of those 6 person sitting compartments with an Afghan family and two others from Syria. The Syrian refugees were sleeping but I ended up striking up a conversation with the father of the Afghan family who spoke a little bit of English.

At first I felt very uncomfortable because I wasn't sure what I could talk about with this guy who has faced so many challenges in life that I can't even realistically imagine. But the incredible thing was that this man who was essentially traveling to an unknown destination with everything that was left in his life was nothing but positive, friendly and hopeful for the future. Despite the fact that we come from incredibly different backgrounds we were able to find common ground. There was no enmity or subtle judgments being made because of where we come from or what we look like. We were just two people sharing a train compartment together.

The hour or so that I talked with this guy was one of the biggest examples of an amazing experience I had that I could never have foreseen when I left home but am unbelievably grateful that I got to have.

What was your living situation in Freiburg?

I lived in a 4 person mixed gender apartment with other students at the University of Freiburg. Since I was there at the end of one semester and the beginning of the next there was some turnover in my semester but pretty much all of my flatmates were friendly and fun to hang out with.

My apartment was in the Vauban neighborhood of Freiburg which is basically the most environmentally friendly part of the most environmentally friendly city in Germany. As such we had an interesting collection of students and lived right next to what can only be described as a hippy commune. It was an incredibly interesting area but very welcoming, great for exploring/running and I would say contributed very positively to my experience with Freiburg.

About half of the total students in the program were also in the Vauban apartments so there were always other American students around to hang with and ride the 10-minute tram into city center with.