Small-Town USA to City Life in Germany; How it Happened

I’ve gotten a lot of questions like, “why Germany?” or “how’d you get here?” during my time studying in Frankfurt. It’s a pretty straightforward story that, on the surface,  perhaps lacks some magical feeling of destiny or magic but I think that once people get to know me and where I’m from, they start to understand the full picture and the incredible journey I’m on. So I’d like to share my story today on how I ended up in Germany but first, you will need some backstory.

Where I’m From

Picture an extremely small town in Eastern Washington (state, not DC, i.e. the Pacific Northwest but not Seattle… imagine Texas if you need help). The town itself is very isolated and only has about 3,000. My high school generally has under 300 students, and it’s the biggest town in the entire county. The town has two little grocery stores but if you need most anything else, you have to drive about an hour into Oregon. It’s about an hour away from the nearest Walmart and 2 hours (and the giant Cascade mountain range) away from the nearest shopping mall where trendy stores like H&M and Forever 21 are.

Parade Of Champions
My last county fair.

Pretty much everyone is a farmer/rancher or has some ties to agriculture and basically everyone else works as the labor needed to keep a town running (like teachers, policemen, linemen, etc). The only problem is that you need water to farm and there really isn’t much of it in my hometown. As a result, the entire valley is struggling.

To be honest, when everyone is in a bubble like in my hometown, you really don’t even notice how poor everyone is (most would never self-identify as poor) but as I travel and see the world, it really becomes apparent. All of these factors combine into a pretty dramatically different childhood than most. The biggest effect this rural upbringing had on my life was what I though to be possible for my future.

What am I going to do with my life?

I always knew I wanted to go to college but (as we all know) it’s so ridiculously expensive in the states that I didn’t know if I could. To work around the money issue, I went to a community college to get my first two years of education out of the way.

Between scholarships and the extremely helpful Pell Grant, I was able to complete my first two years without taking any debt. Although it was a lot of work, often working two minimum wage jobs to pay for books and rent, I graduated as my school’s All-Washington Scholar nominee and was even able to save up for a crappy little car (that’s still going strong to this day I might add).

All-Washington Scholar
At the All-Scholars banquet.

After two years and a handful of people telling me that I had a lot of potential, I transferred to Washington State University. WSU is not a prestigious school by any means but it truly cares about each and every one of its 30,000 students. I got really involved there and took on an extremely heavy course load. I guess you could say it paid off in the end; I left that school with a handful of prestigious awards, amazing experiences and great letters of recommendation.

A Peek at the Rest of the World

Never in my entire life did I think that I could afford to leave the United States but at WSU I was pushed to apply for and won the Gilman scholarship (the Fulbright’s less famous cousin) to study for a summer in Berlin.

Going abroad was always a far-off dream that was too wild to even waste energy thinking about, and yet, in no time I found myself standing at the top of the Berliner Dom looking over a city that takes up the same amount of space as the entire valley that I grew up in. That was undoubtedly one of the greatest defining moments of my life.

On Top of the Berliner Dom
One of the greatest defining moments of my life took place right here.

When it came time to graduate from WSU, I was still very nervous about my ability to find a decent job in the states. I needed an edge and I thought that grad school would get me there. I didn’t know how I would pay for two more years of school, so I applied for the Fulbright.

My application for the scholarship was strongest if I chose to study again in Germany and a quick Google search told me straight away that the Frankfurt School had the best Master of Finance program in the country. Unfortunately, I was only a semifinalist for the Fulbright, but the fact that there’s an entire category on my blog clearly says that I thought the Frankfurt School, its reputation, and the quality of education were worth the risk.

The Leap of Faith

As a whole, I have not been disappointed with my decision to move to Europe. Although at the moment I feel like I may have made a mistake deciding to pursue my Master of Finance, I am very happy with my ability to stick with the program, adapt to a new country and maintain some semblance of a work-life-school balance. The experience as a whole has been so eye-opening and everyday something relatively mundane is likely to make me stop and reflect on how far I’ve come.

Neuschwanstein Castle Selfie
Exploring and living the life I want.

Never in a million years did I think that I would have friends from all over the world, that I would be learning in one of the worlds best business schools or that I would walk down a hallway and hear a different language being spoken around every corner. If you asked me even two years ago, I would never have guessed that I would be taking a subway (or any form of public transportation) to work or be getting my paycheck in a foreign currency, and I would honesty even be surprised that I had a passport. And now here I am looking at moving to Italy next semester.

***

So in a nutshell, that’s the story of how I ended up in Germany. On the surface, it was a decision based on a scholarship strategy and Google but now that you all see where I come from I think it becomes clear that it’s so much more than that.

While his journey has physically brought me across the world, it’s brought me emotionally, spiritually and intellectually so much further than that. Every day I am thankful for this opportunity, for all the people who helped me along the way, and mostly, I’m thankful to my old self for having the audacity to set a goal and work towards it even with a lifetime’s worth of obstacles in her way.

This post is a modified version of the first draft of my Frankfurt School blog post. It’s much more personal than they were wanting for the site (which I completely understand), but I spent so much time on it that it would be a shame to let it go to waste. So, here you go. Enjoy!


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